Statement of the International Committee of the Fourth International
Globalization and the International Working Class

Promoting Quebécois nationalism

The next area where the SEP is condemned for failing to uphold the right of self-determination is Quebec. Here we are dealing with one of the advanced capitalist countries, where, as Lenin said even in 1913, the bourgeois national movements, and therefore the applicability of the right of self-determination, had come to an end “long ago.”

Nonetheless, new national separatist movements have emerged not only in Quebec, but in other parts of the advanced capitalist world: Scotland, Belgium, and Italy for example. Spartacist, like the rest of the petty-bourgeois left, has adapted itself to this development.

What is the objective content of these movements, irrespective of the particular political views of their leaderships? Are they bound up with a struggle against imperialism, and do they embody the democratic aspirations of the masses to free themselves from oppression?

The case of Quebec is representative. Quebec separatism arises out of the conflicting interests of different sections of the bourgeoisie under conditions of the continuing regional fracturing of Canada. Economic relations between separate Canadian regions and foreign markets, particularly the US, are today greater than between the regions themselves. Sections of the Quebec bourgeoisie see a more advantageous relation with US capitalism through separation.

The demands of global economy come into sharp conflict with the outmoded nation-state form of Canada. The issue posed is whether this conflict will be resolved from above, through the bourgeoisie’s fomenting of Anglo chauvinism on the one hand and Quebec separatism on the other, or from below by the united struggle of the North American working class to put an end to capitalism?

The Quebec nationalists are in no way opposed to imperialism. On the contrary, they have repeatedly offered guarantees that a separate Quebec would remain Washington’s faithful junior partner in both the NATO and NAFTA treaties. In short, Quebec exercising its “self-determination” would mean the creation of a third imperialist state on the North American continent founded on national exclusivism.

As for the social question, the Parti Quebécois (PQ), the political instrument of national separatism, is a party of big business which has spearheaded the assault of the entire Canadian bourgeoisie on the jobs, wages and social conditions of the working class. In the 1995 referendum called by the PQ provincial government on Quebec secession, the party promoted separation on an openly capitalist basis, arguing that national independence would create better conditions for driving down production costs, increasing profits and gaining greater access to markets. The demands of the Quebec nationalists are anti-democratic in character. They seek not equality of language rights, but rather the creation of a unilingual French Quebec.

What Spartacist means by “self-determination” found its clearest expression in this referendum in which it called for a “yes” vote, supporting the PQ’s project of creating an independent Quebec.

It is worth noting that the last time that the PQ had called such a referendum, Spartacist, together with the bulk of the middle class left, called for a boycott on the grounds that a “yes” vote would represent an impermissible vote of political confidence in this capitalist party. At the time, Quebec nationalism and even the PQ itself had a far more “left” face than it presents today. But while the PQ has moved drastically to the right, the petty-bourgeois ex-radicals have gone even further and faster, joining a political bloc with the Quebécois bourgeoisie.

What is the effect of such a policy? Within the working class it is utilized as a means of diverting workers from a class response to capitalist exploitation. It presents conditions created by capital in every area of the globe as the supposed result of national oppression, in this case of the Quebécois by English-speaking Canada. Workers are told that they have more in common with French-speaking capitalists than with English-speaking workers in the rest of North America. Support for national separatism plays the same essential role in other advanced capitalist countries such as Britain (i.e., Scottish and Welsh nationalism) and Belgium.

Not accidentally, the Quebec union bureaucracy constitutes one of the principal props of Quebécois nationalism, just as its counterparts in English-speaking Canada constitute a bulwark of Canadian nationalism. Both line up behind their respective sections of the Canadian bourgeoisie in a dispute over privileges and profits which has nothing to do with the needs of working people. And Spartacist, which is oriented to this bureaucracy and shares its opposition to any independent movement of the working class, lines up right behind them.