Sunday, May 4, 2014

Quebec & The Militant's Incoherence

An article by Michael Prairie reporting on the provincial elections in Quebec is an essential read. First, the topic has been under-reported in the US, not featured on any of the webpages I routinely follow. Mr. Prairie gives a good, short and accurate account of the facts, which I definitely appreciate. And second, one can only marvel at the utter incoherence of the Socialist Workers Party's (SWP) position.

In very brief summary the facts are these: The separatist Parti Quebecois (PQ) won an election to form a minority government in 2010, headed by Pauline Marois. In what must be one of the greatest political blunders of all time, Ms. Marois called a snap election for April 7th, which the PQ lost in a landslide. Ms. Marois lost her own seat.

The proximate cause of this disaster was an intemperate remark by Quebec businessman and celebrity, Pierre Karl Peladeau, who some liken to Silvio Berlusconi. He announced that he "wanted to make Quebec a country." The PQ has always been for independence, but that cause has become increasingly unpopular in recent decades--it cost them the election.

In addition, the PQ government wanted to pass another illiberal law called the Charter of Quebec Values. (This is akin to the infamous Bill 101, passed in 1977, that regulated the use of language in private life.) The Charter would have banned government employees from wearing "conspicuous religious symbols" on the job, including the kippah (yarmulke), hijab (Muslim headscarf), and turban (Sikh religious headwear), among others. The effort was accompanied by sundry racist comments directed especially against Muslims and Jews:
Louise Mailloux, a prominent Quebec feminist and philosopher [and PQ member - ed], said this week she stands by her belief that circumcision and baptism are similar to rape and that kosher and halal certification is a tax that goes toward funding religious wars and lining the pockets of religious leaders.
I never found Quebecois nationalism to be a very attractive ideology. It is suffused with a deep-going antisemitism, leavened lately by an equally vicious hatred of Muslims. It's the stupid sister of France's National Front. I didn't like it very much even in 1970 when I was in the Party (more accurately, the Young Socialist Alliance). That was when Pierre Trudeau invoked the War Measures Act to combat the terrorist FLQ (Quebec Liberation Front). Nearly my first political activity as a Trotskyist was supporting Quebec independence in the face of government repression.

So I'm sympathetic to and intrigued by Mr. Prairie's description of how the Party has disowned Quebec separatism and no longer supports the movement. He cites two developments over the past half century.

First, he claims the Quebecois have essentially won their fight against "national oppression." He cites figures such as relative earnings between Francophones and Anglophones in the province, with the former earning more than the latter. There is, in his view, little evidence of discrimination against the Quebecois.

I think this claim is correct. It's consistent with anecdotal evidence from my own recent trips to Montreal, from a Canadian friend who used to live there, and from my wife's Filipino relatives who are Montrealers. Bill 101 may be obnoxious, but it has worked to eliminate an enduring sense of grievance among French Canadians.

His second claim is also true: separatism fails because Quebec (and especially Montreal) is much more "multinational and heterogeneous" today. My wife's relatives are a good example. Grandma (my wife's cousin) speaks English and Tagalog, but no French. Her children--born in the Philippines but moved to Montreal as teenagers--speak English, Tagalog, and limited French as a foreign language. Her grandchildren speak English at home, French at school, and are fluently bilingual in Canada's languages. But they can't speak Tagalog. They are Canadian, but not Quebecois. Nobody in that clan would ever vote for the PQ.

So how does Mr. Prairie account for the Party's change of heart? Here the argument descends into incoherence:
The blows struck against the national oppression of Quebecois are one of many consequences of the weakening of U.S. and world imperialism since the collapse of the Soviet Union and other Stalinist regimes in Eastern Europe in the early 1990s.
What? It gets worse:
The ground conquered against national oppression of Quebecois in Canada is one aspect of a world marked by the fact that U.S. imperialism — as well as the privileged ruling Soviet bureaucracies that were wiped out with the fall of the Stalinist regimes — failed to inflict demoralizing defeats on the working class in the former workers states of Eastern and Central Europe. ... As a consequence, toilers around the world, from Montreal to Kiev, are using the political space they've carved out to discuss, debate and organize against the bosses in face of the worldwide crisis of capitalist production and trade. 
World imperialism led by Washington lost the Cold War against the working class in the former Soviet Union. In similar fashion, Canadian imperialism has lost the Cold War against the working people of Quebec. 
This is something to celebrate.
I've been under the impression that the Party dropped the US lost the Cold War meme, but I guess not. It's resurrected here in the strangest possible context. Also reappearing is that odd phrase political space, a term which the Party has used in many contexts, from Syria to Turkey to Egypt. This is also opaque.

One might argue that the Party sympathizes more with Islamism than with Quebec nationalism. But I don't think that's true--elsewhere their condemnation of Jihadis has been nothing short of thundering. Their defense of Muslim rights in Quebec is a perfectly straightforward defense of religious freedom that I would also support.

So I'm clueless. Let me know if any of this makes sense to you. For all that, I agree with the Party's position on the Parti Quebecois.

I sure wish the Party would hold its much touted convention so that we'd get some clarity on these issues.

Further Reading:

No comments:

Post a Comment