This week, Pauline Marois’s provincial Parti Quebecois government is set to reveal its proposed Quebec Charter of Values.
This will be a set of rules applying to all public employees, including teachers, hospital employees and daycare educators. Ostensibly, the goal of the charter is simple: to establish who is boss in Quebec. In this light, it will be a series of rules intended to not only keep some people in their place, but also a form of propaganda establishing what their place is.
(On another level – that which takes into account the fact that the Charter may not stand up to legal challenges, and that that fact is part of the PQ’s calculation – the Charter is part of a programme of encouraging a certain kind of racism amongst PQ supporters, the kind of sentiment that it is hoped will tie them to the party in the longer term. That this might backfire as these racist voters are attracted to more virulent third parties is a risk some strategists may be willing to take.)
The prime targets are immigrants from the Third World, who for the purposes of “setting an example” are to be represented by Muslim women. The form of instruction will most likely center on a dress code, stipulating that these women must not cover their faces at work, banning the hijab in places of public sector employment.
(We have had foreshadowings of this over the past 6 months, with the government faking a scandal over relaxed enforcement of parking regulations in certain neighbourhoods during Jewish holidays, and with the Quebecor media faking a scandal over observant Jews and Muslims being allowed to bring kosher and halal food into La Ronde amusement park. Regardless of these opening shots, Muslim women remain the favored scapegoat in play here.)
Neocolonialism is marked by class mobility (mostly but not only downwards), not primarily on an individual level, but for whole cohesive sectors of the working and middle classes, both justified by and leading to the redeployment of old racist lines in the sand. Mutated forms in which the same old deadly oppressions are sustained and given new life.
In the case of Quebec, this is particularly intense. One hundred years ago, what we today refer to as the Quebecois was a predominantly proletarian nation, albeit one with its own colonialist history as a settler society, and with deeply conservative sections within its ruling class (a negative backlash, the result of the suppression of popular uprisings in the early 19th century).
But in the postwar period, the class character of the Quebecois nation changed, being brought up in line with the rest of white North America.
The reasons for this upward shift are various, and open to debate – there were both powerful internal and external factors – but the consequence is pretty clear: the “Quiet Revolution” made it so that within a generation, Quebec went from being a proletarian to being a labor aristocratic nation. One manifestation of this – the one most easily grasped even by leftists who reject most observations about the labor aristocracy – is that it also went from being an oppressed nation within Canada, to being an imperialist nation without its own state. (Accurate, so far is it goes.)
At the same time as this bringing Quebec in step with the rest of white North America was occurring, however, the global shift to neocolonialism was morphing what it meant to be a white North American. Built around the labor aristocracy (the “middle class”), as this class was hit with offshoring and economic crisis (not to mention integration in the united states and an opening up to Third World immigration in canada), whitelife got a dose of panic. However, even when pushed out of the standard of living associated with the 20th century middle class, the labor aristocracy retained its habits, its expectations, its ideology.
Bitterness, resentment, and fear are the results.
This is what is happening in Quebec: a generation that fought to be “maitres chez nous” is finding its footing on this new unsteady terrain, one where privilege is no longer guaranteed (it never was), but must be fought for, against those “above” (the capitalist ruling class), “horizontally” (against “the anglos” and “the rest of Canada”), and against those “below”… those whose exploitation sustains this whole structure…
As in the rest of Canada, immigrants from the Third World represent an increasingly important proportion of the lower middle class and proletariat in Quebec. While rarely coming from the most exploited sectors in their countries of origin, both formal and informal racism conspire to push them into the most exploited and oppressed layers of the working class once here.
As pressure increases on the Quebec middle classes, this immigrant workforce has the potential to either prop up, or to further endanger, their access to parasitic whitelife.
As per the neocolonial norm, it is a complex situation with numerous dynamics at play, and as such although the labor aristocracy as a whole is faced with a consistent set of challenges, the response is by no means monolithic. Marois and the PQ are staking out one particular strategy for maintaining the Quebecois franchise of white supremacist capitalism. It is not uncontroversial, and indeed is being criticized by other representatives of the ruling class who either read the tea leaves differently, or are simply betting on a different horse.
Which way things will go will be determined by many different battles and struggles in the years to come, but the clock is already ticking and decisions can be made now that will help establish the relationship of forces that will be at play.
This is what the PQ’s charter of values is really about. Putting people in their place. Establishing who owns this “nation”, its economy, its cities, its resources, its culture.
At the same time, it is also about the PQ further entrenching its position as the best representative of the Quebecois middle class, in a situation where it is increasingly incapable of offering the social democratic carrots that it used to have access to. (Remember that nationalism itself often constituted the social democratic stick…)
Opposing this charter is necessary, both on anti-racist, and on anti-capitalist, grounds.
The Collectif Québécois Contre l’Islamophobie has called for a demonstration against the Charter, to be held on Saturday, September 14, at noon, at Place Emilie Gamelin (Berri metro). Facebook event page here.
Word is that other folks, organizing from an explicitly anticapitalist and anticolonial perspective, are also meeting to discuss how to respond to this charter. Hopefully will have more to say about this soon.
In the meantime, some worthwhile background on all this:
- “Down With PQ’s “Charter of Québec Values!”” Partisan #42, August 23, 2013
- The “Reasonable Accommodation” Debate in Quebec: Statement by No One Is Illegal-Montreal (2007)
- [Le Drapeau Rouge] At Last the PQ Shows Its True Colours! (2007)
- Trade Unions Line Up for a “Neutral” Racist Quebec (2007)
- Pauline Marois, the PQ’s “Quebec Identity Bill” and Divided Strategies on the Radical Left (2007)
- Reasonable Accommodation Hearings: On the creation of a Muslim boogeywoman (2007)
- The Hijab and Soccer: Women, Immigrants, and the Fear of the Female Proletariat (2007)
- Secularism, Women’s Liberation and Intervention: More on the Racist Reasonable Accommodation “Debate” (2007)
- Racist “Reasonable Accommodation” Anxieties: A Short Summary (2007)
- Racist Reasonable Accommodation: Questions for a Revolutionary Quebec Left (2007)
And on the class make-up of the Quebec nation: