Saturday, September 23, 2017

Defend the people of Catalonia against assault by the Spanish state!

Québécois national movement mobilizes for democracy while Trudeau government is silent

Catalans demonstrate on their national day

Hundreds of thousands mobilize in Barcelona on Catalonia’s national day.

The Spanish government of Mariano Rajoy has unleashed a wave of repressive measures in a desperate attempt to block the October 1 popular vote on independence in Catalonia.

It has jailed more than 20 Catalan political leaders and officials, taken control of the finances of the Catalan “autonomous commune,” seized millions of referendum ballots, posters and leaflets, and cut off internet access to relevant government web sites.

Meetings in public buildings have been banned and more than 700 municipal politicians have been threatened with arrest and prosecution for helping to organize the referendum.[1]

But tens of thousands of Catalans are in mass revolt. “Only too conscious of this reminder of Civil Guard operations during the Franco dictatorship,” reports Barcelona correspondent Dick Nichols in Green Left Weekly, “they protested outside the buildings being raided and occupied the centre of Barcelona and other Catalan cities and towns.

“People were responding to the call of the Catalan government and the Catalan mass organisations — the Catalan National Assembly (ANC) and Catalan language and culture association Omnium Cultural — to maintain peaceful mass protests up until October 1. The aim is to make the Spanish government pay the highest possible price for its ‘de facto coup’ (phrase of Catalan Premier Carles Puigdemont).

“Their call was also backed by political forces and institutions that do not necessarily support Catalan independence, but defend Catalan sovereignty. For example, Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau publicly backed the street protests and warned Rajoy that he would find ‘the Catalan people more united than ever.’

“In Madrid, radical anti-austerity force Unidos Podemos condemned the raids. Its MPs in the Spanish parliament staged a protest outside the building and later joined a rally in support of Catalonia’s right to decide. The Madrid rally, held in the central Puerta del Sol, was one of at least 40 that took place across the Spanish state on the evening of the raids.

“Twenty major institutions of Catalan civil society representing 3000 Catalan social organisations — including the two main trade union confederations... — condemned the raids. They called for the release of the detainees and reaffirmed their support for Catalonia’s institutions.”[2]

The October 1 referendum was called by the Catalan National Assembly following years of frustrated attempts by the Catalan authorities to negotiate increased autonomy for their nation within Spain, rejected repeatedly by the central government and the major political parties along with the Constitutional Court, which in 2010 rejected an autonomy agreement worked out between Barcelona and Madrid. Since then the movement for autonomy and state independence has grown rapidly; each September 11, the Catalonian national day, a million or more Catalans — in a territory with only 7.5 million people — have demonstrated in the streets in defense of their right to national self-determination.

The current repression is an ugly reminder of their treatment under the 1939-75 fascist dictatorship of Francisco Franco, when even the public use of the majority Catalan language was prohibited.

Following Franco’s death, the major capitalist parties, including the Spanish Social Democracy, negotiated a new constitution in 1978 headed by a monarch. Although it established a parliamentary democracy, most of the fundamental institutions of the Francoist state remained intact. Although it allowed partial autonomy to Catalonia, the latter’s Statute of Autonomy is subordinate to the Spanish Constitution. The conservative Rajoy government in Madrid has resisted with increasing vehemence Catalonia’s requests for more powers to defend and develop its national culture and society.

As Catalan revolutionary socialist Esther Vivas has written, “the battle of October 1 is not only about independence. What is at stake is the future of the political and institutional framework established in 1978.”[3] Spanish Marxist Jaime Pastor argues that “the referendum would help to democratize Spain.”[4]

Unfortunately, the repression in Catalonia has elicited no criticism from the European Union; in a typical reaction, the Macron government in neighboring France calls instead for “respect for the Spanish institutional framework.”[5]

The Trudeau government is silent, as well. But in Quebec, leaders of nationalist organizations and pro-independence political parties have issued a strong statement of solidarity with the Catalans. See the text, below, in my translation. And some are organizing demonstrations against the repression in Montréal, Ottawa and possibly other cities.

However, when Parti québécois leader Jean-François Lisée challenged Liberal premier Philippe Couillard in the National Assembly on September 21 to join in telling Spain “Respect the democratic process in Catalonia,” Couillard refused to do so. Instead, he maintained that while he was “concerned” by the events, “Spain is a democratic country” and he would not interfere “in the political debates under way in Spain.”

And in a cheap shot aimed at the PQ, he warned that supporting the right to self-determination of peoples could backfire on Quebec: “Considering that we have a nation-to-nation relationship with the First Nations, what would happen if Quebec were to separate from the Canadian federation and all the First Nations, at least half of Quebec, decided to exercise their self-determination and not follow the separated Quebec?”

Lisée, taken aback, responded by reminding the premier that both the PQ and the Liberals are on record as subordinating indigenous autonomy to “the territorial integrity” of Quebec. He noted that Law 99, adopted by the Assembly under a PQ government in response to the federal parliament’s Clarity Act, upheld this “territorial integrity” should Quebec become independent.

And indeed, neither of these capitalist parties — in contrast to Québec solidaire, which was not a participant in this parliamentary exchange — upholds the right of self-determination of the indigenous First Nations. But that is a topic that I will address in a forthcoming article. The exchange between Lisée and Couillard ended as a shabby substitute for the needed statement of official Quebec solidarity with Catalonia. As for the silence of the left in English Canada, it speaks for itself.

Richard Fidler


Prison vs. Ballot Boxes in Spain: a Toxic Cocktail in a Democracy

Le Devoir, September 21, 2017

(Signatories listed at conclusion)

As democrats, we feel an obligation to protest strongly to the government of Mariano Rajoy. After having deployed in 2010 the arsenal of the Constitutional Court to block an agreement that granted further autonomy to Catalonia within Spain, this government is now working to block the electoral process of the Catalan people. Over and above the right of peoples to self-determination, recognzed in the United Nations Charter, it is democracy itself that is now being battered.

This is intolerable. It is intolerable to turn our heads and leave to their fate the Catalan people, denying them in the eyes of the entire world the right to vote and declare where they stand on their political future. It is intolerable as well to see a country like Spain, which claims to be a democracy, threaten to prosecute, even imprison, mayors and members of the Catalan government on the sole ground that they are organizing or collaborating in the organization of a referendum. Prison against ballot boxes is a toxic cocktail in a democracy.

Spain is hiding behind the decision of the Constitutional Court, which is now claiming that the referendum fervently demanded by the Catalan people and decided by their Parliament is illegal, when it is the Spanish government that itself solicited this opinion. We wish to remind the Rajoy government that holding a referendum is, in the first place, a political decision that could perfectly well have been agreed with the Catalan Generalitat, as was done in similar circumstances in 2014 between the United Kingdom and Scotland. There is no future in trying to prohibit to a people the right to express themselves on their political status.

To express our solidarity

The Catalan people are conducting an examplary battle in defense of this “right to decide,” which has many times led them to take to the streets peacefully. They are not alone in this struggle. The Québécois have twice managed to vote on their political future, in 1980 and in 1995, notwithstanding the arsenal deployed by the federal government: violation of the rules of referendum participation, application to the Supreme Court to rule on Quebec’s right to secession, adoption of the Clarity Act, and more recently a court challenge of Law 99[6] adopted by the National Assembly. Today it is the turn of the Quebec people to express their solidarity with the Catalan population in its legitimate right to declare itself democratically on its political status.

We call on the Spanish government to cease adding to the mess for which everyone, including Spain, will pay the price. Its intransigence and its authoritarian drift have already done a disservice to its cause, as many Catalans have now left behind the autonomist nationalism they have practiced historically in order to embrace the cause of independence. The Spanish government must put an end to the escalation by forthwith renouncing the heavy-handedness, the antidemocratic maneuvers and the threat to withdraw its current autonomous status from Catalonia.

Mr. Rajoy’s government has overstepped the mark not only by trying to confiscate election materials, but by going so far as to seize the leaflets of the yes camp. It doing so, it offends against freedom of expression, devitalizing and undermining democracy.

Finally, the atmosphere of threats and intimidation currently prevailing in Catalonia is unhealthy and dishonours Spain and the efforts of the international community to base the functioning of our political institutions on values of democracy, peace and respect for people’s rights.

It is up to the Catalan people to decide alone and in full freedom their political future, and we, faced with so many atrocities, must be numerous in expressing our solidarity with them and coming out in defense of democracy.

Signatories:

Stéphane Bergeron, porte-parole de l’opposition officielle en matière de relations internationales et député de Verchères

Jason Brochu-Valcourt, vice-président des OUI Québec

Serge Cadieux, secrétaire général de la FTQ

Claudette Carbonneau, présidente des OUI Québec

Véronique De Sève, vice-présidente de la CSN

Martine Desjardins, Mouvement national des Québécoises et Québécois

Robert Laplante, directeur de L’Action nationale

Maxime Laporte, président de la Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Montréal et du Réseau Cap sur l’indépendance

Gabrielle Lemieux, présidente du Parti québécois

Manon Massé, co-porte-parole de Québec solidaire et députée de Sainte-Marie–Saint-Jacques

Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, co-porte-parole de Québec solidaire et député de Gouin

Martine Ouellet, chef du Bloc québécois et députée de Vachon

Danic Parenteau, professeur au Collège militaire royal de Saint-Jean

Sol Zanetti, chef d’Option nationale


Suggested further reading

Report of the International Group of Experts, “The Catalan Independence Referendum: An Assessment of the Process of Self-Determination,” IRAI, September 2017.


[1] Alain-G. Gagnon, “La raison du plus fort,” Le Devoir, September 23, 2017.

[2] For extensive coverage of the Catalan movement, see the coverage in Links, International Journal of Socialist Renewal, including The Catalan national struggle and the left in the Spanish state—a dossier.

[3] Esther Vivas, “La hora de la verdad,” elPeriódico, September 6, 2017.

[4] Jaime Pastor, “El referéndum ayudaría a la democratización de España,” El Nacional, August 6, 2017. See also Pastor’s interview (translated), “If I were Catalan, I would have no choice but to vote yes to independence,” Life on the Left, July 20, 2017.

[5] Stéphane Baillargeon, “La Catalogne laissée à elle-même,” Le Devoir, September 23, 2017.

[6] An Act respecting the exercise of the fundamental rights and prerogatives of the Québec people and the Québec State.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Quebec independence a key to building the left in Canada

Introduction

The 2017 edition of the Université populaire (the People’s University), meeting in Montréal August 17-19, included a panel of speakers from Quebec and English Canada on the possibilities for building a convergence of left forces in both nations.

It was chaired and introduced by Andrea Levy, a Montréal-based editor of Canadian Dimension, and included André Frappier, a former president of the Montréal postal workers and now a leader of Québec solidaire; Kevin Skerrett, a leading activist in Solidarity Ottawa; Corvin Russell, a Toronto solidarity activist and recently co-author with Andrea Levy of an excellent paper, “Mapping the Canadian Left: Sovereignty and Solidarity in the 21st Century;[1] and myself. I am a member of both Solidarity Ottawa and Québec solidaire.

The conference program introduced the topic as follows:

“The Canadian State is a common obstacle faced by progressive forces in Québec and Canada that makes the creation of alliances as much a necessity as a virtue. However, both in Québec and Canada, the left is mired in narrow ideological perspectives and lacking real involvement in day-to-day struggles. The growing resistance of Indigenous peoples is a game changer for both sides as it calls into question the very foundations of the Canadian State. This session proposes to look at how we might build toward a new convergence of forces. - How can the Canadian left support the struggle for national and social emancipation in Québec? - What are the weak points in the Canadian State and among the elites seeking to maintain power. What sorts of struggles can we engage in jointly? - How can progressive organizations in Canada and Québec develop a common strategy of international solidarity with Indigenous peoples in Canada? - What means can we use to fulfill these aims?”

Levy and Frappier spoke in French, the rest of us in English, with simultaneous interpretation. The panelists’ contributions were followed by some stimulating exchanges with members of the audience. Unfortunately, the session was not recorded.

The following is a slightly expanded and edited version of my presentation. Readers will note that, contrary to some assertions in the above note by the conference organizers, I make some important distinctions between the lefts in the two nations. – Richard Fidler

* * *

The program introduction speaks of “convergence” as the goal. And it speaks of an impasse between the lefts in Quebec and Canada, implying a divergence. So I’ll begin by exploring this. In what follows I will focus on what can be termed the political left, seeking political solutions to the problems addressed more generally by the various social movements. And I will treat the NDP as a part of the broad “left” in English Canada, for reasons I explain later.

Generally speaking, the socialist project is to “change the world by taking power”— that is, building powerful anticapitalist social forces and parties capable of winning control of the state and using government to help build a new anticapitalist popular sovereignty based on decentralized grass-roots participatory democracy.

However, how we think of “taking power” differs between the lefts in Quebec and the Rest of Canada (ROC). In Quebec, socialists have historically oriented to breaking from Canada and creating a sovereign state. In the rest of Canada the left seeks power in Ottawa, hoping at best to use the central government to reform, not dismantle, the central state. To understand this difference, which is crucial, we need to understand how the existing state is viewed in Quebec.

Both lefts can agree that the Canadian state is historically based on the theft and occupation of indigenous lands and the genocide of their peoples; the British Conquest of the French settlers, the defeat of the latters’ Rebellion, and their subsequent marginalization outside of Quebec. The state that resulted, the bulwark of the class rule of the Canadian capitalists, including their Québécois counterparts, is thoroughly integrated within global imperialism.

This central state has exclusive jurisdiction over finance, banking, regulation of trade and commerce, issuance of currency, foreign affairs, the military, criminal law, the appointment of judges of the superior courts, etc. The provinces are generally limited to powers of a “merely local or private nature.” And Ottawa holds residual power over all matters not specifically allocated by the Constitution to the provinces, including Quebec.

The possession by the surviving indigenous peoples and by the Québécois of the territories in which they predominate, that they partially control and that continue to be the mainstay of their languages and cultures, their respective nationhood, is the basis of their respective quests for political sovereignty.

The Canadian state structures and constitution fail to recognize this plurinational composition of Canada, still less the democratic right of First Nations and Québécois to self-determination. The Constitution Act, 1982 leaves it to the federal courts to define and interpret the “existing aboriginal and treaty rights of the aboriginal peoples,” while the amending formula (art. 38) effectively rules out the secession of Quebec from Canada in the absence of overwhelming or even unanimous acceptance by federal and provincial lawmakers in the ROC.

Defending their lands and resources against incursions by capital, the indigenous peoples challenge the federal regime. However, it is the Québécois, above all, who pose a threat to the territorial integrity of the Canadian state per se. The forces mobilized for sovereignty are especially powerful when they are exerted by a nation with Quebec’s demographic weight and its geographical location in Canada’s heartland.[2]

Quebec’s subordination to the central state structures underpins its oppression — it lacks the powers needed to fully defend its existence as a nation, let alone implement a progressive social agenda. That is why rising social struggles (as in the 2012 Maple Spring upsurge), to the extent that they advance an emancipatory politics, point to the need for national independence. Québécois resistance to their oppression is the major fault line within Canada as a social formation and it is a key source of political and social instability.

The ROC left historically has struggled with Quebec’s national consciousness. For this left, it complicates, even blocks the fight for governmental power in Canada. For example the NDP, with a long record of opposition to Quebec nationalism, has most recently tipped its hat to Quebec self-determination in its Sherbrooke Declaration. But even this document aims, as it says, to attract Quebec support for the NDP’s own project of reforming the central state and giving it further powers. (More on this later.)

Apart from some very small political currents that claim adherence to the Marxist legacy, the Anglo-Canadian left for the most part seems baffled by Quebec’s national question. Some may formally claim to respect Quebec’s democratic right to national self-determination, but in practice they are inclined at most to accept or support minor constitutional reforms devised to win Quebec’s acceptance of the Constitution, as we saw in the case of ROC left support to the unsuccessful Meech Lake and Charlottetown accords — the latter rejected by a majority of Québécois in a referendum. The ROC left’s unresponsiveness to Quebec’s national demands deepens its rupture with Quebec progressive opinion.

I think the Canadian left should stop seeing Quebec as a problem or simply hoping to neutralize the effect of sovereigntist sentiment by formally supporting Quebec’s right to self-determination. Instead, it should adopt a pro-active approach, viewing the Quebec independence movement as a strategic ally, an opportunity to break this current impasse on the left and, by recognizing Quebec secession as a potential key to dismantling the oppressive Canadian state structures, to open the way toward rethinking “power” as a reconceptualization of state and government in terms of establishing popular sovereignty.

Shifts in leadership of national struggle

There are important changes taking place within the Quebec national struggle. An historical overview indicates the shifts in class relations it is producing.

Following the defeat of the Rebellion of 1837-38 and the British grant of home rule to its four British North American colonies in 1867, thereby cementing Francophone minority status within the new state, the Québécois — led by traditional conservative and clerical élites — fought with uneven success for almost a century in defense of their language and schools and against the denial of their rights in the new provinces created with the expansion westward of the Canadian state.

However, in the 1960s, as a result of Quebec’s industrialization and proletarianization by Canadian and foreign capital, a more assertive strategy emerged. The Quiet Revolution, led by Francophone professionals within the traditional capitalist parties and later the Parti Québécois (PQ) but with great popular support, modernized and secularized the Quebec state, and it became the vehicle for expanded education facilities and social programs.

Initially, the federal state attempted to accommodate the rising nationalist upsurge, for example through creating the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism or by allowing Quebec to use the massive revenues accumulated by the universal pension plan (the QPP) to help create a new Francophone bourgeoisie, later known as “Quebec Inc.” But as Quebec sought expanded powers through constitutional change, the federalist response became more hostile, culminating in Trudeau Sr.’s 1982 “patriation” of the Constitution with its amending formula and Charter of Rights that imposed limits on Quebec’s Charter of Language Rights and its right of self-determination — later extended through Supreme Court rulings and the Clarity Act.

However, federal resistance, while having a chilling effect on the national movement, has not persuaded the Québécois to embrace the federal regime. On the contrary, it has tended over time to deepen Quebec’s alienation from the Canadian state while exposing the PQ’s incapacity to lead the struggle for independence.

While seeking an expanded role for itself within the Canadian and global capitalist economy, the Quebec bourgeoisie has never favoured independence. And the Parti québécois, which has hegemonized the pro-sovereignty movement until recently, has always hinged its project — the creation of a state that advances the interests of a Francophone bourgeoisie while retaining popular support through occasional social reforms, workers’ rights and defense of the French language — on maintaining an “association” with the Canadian state through such means as a common currency and even a central bank. The PQ has never been prepared to counter the federalist offensive; it was tamed by the repression in the October 1970 crisis, Ottawa’s signal that it was prepared to use armed force to resist moves toward secession.

In this sense, we can speak of the PQ as a “bourgeois” party, a party upholding capitalist rule in all its forms. And since 1980, when its first referendum on sovereignty was defeated, the PQ has proved to be another party of neoliberal austerity, now relying increasingly on an appeal to reactionary “identitarian” nationalism that scapegoats ethnic minorities. This is the main cause of declining popular support for the pro-sovereignty movement in recent years.

But the Quebec national struggle intersects with the class struggle, giving both a distinctive dynamic and progressive content, and thereby furthering the challenge to the Canadian capitalist state.

There is now a recomposition taking place within the national movement with the emergence of Québec solidaire as a progressive (and implicitly anticapitalist) alternative leadership, winning increasing popular support through its role in championing the interests of working people and social movements. This in turn opens new opportunities for advancing the struggle through linking the independence movement with a progressive social program, and vice versa, while pointing to the need for joint action, if not convergence, with left forces in the ROC.

The progressive dynamic of the national and class struggles in Quebec, when combined, is illustrated by the program that Québec solidaire is now finalizing. It includes free lifelong education, progressive taxation, the extension of social benefits to precarious workers, expanded rights for temporary foreign workers, environmental protection and meaningful targets for greenhouse gas emissions, as well as a fundamental reorientation of international policy toward achieving global justice and disengaging from the imperialist military alliances NATO and NORAD.

QS plans to publish its program (including the recently adopted sections on global solidarity, justice, territory and agriculture) this fall. Containing many progressive proposals, it deserves to be translated into English and promoted in the ROC.

So what about convergence?

What, then, of convergence? My English dictionary defines it as “terminating at the same point.” Are the lefts in Quebec and the ROC likely to do that? And what is that point?

Interestingly, the English translation of this panel’s topic asks “How can we bring about a convergence of forces on the left.” But the original French text asks us only to “think about the convergence of the lefts.” I will speak to the latter, because I do not believe a true convergence is feasible in the foreseeable future. I prefer to address the possibilities for joint action around common goals, a united front around the class issues that can unite socialists and social movement activists in both nations and in which the Quebec left, the leading edge, retains its autonomy and its clear national trajectory.

Strategically, Quebec independence will only be realizable through massive mobilization and solidarity from working people not only in Quebec but in the rest of the oppressor Canadian state.

But first, a few thoughts about the NDP, the hegemonic party in the broad left in Canada outside Quebec, and the prism through which electoral “politics” are largely viewed. It is an established party, with a long history in ROC politics, experience in provincial government, formal links to trade unions and informally with many community, provincial and “national” social movements. Although not anticapitalist, it is seen as the logical alternative to the traditional parties of Capital. Its social-liberalism is seen as a “kinder, gentler” antidote to aggressive neoliberalism.

As a reformist party, the NDP is unable to contemplate a break-up of the central state. Its politics are entirely oriented to operating within or at best reforming that state, not destroying it. This is part of its DNA. It promotes a homogenizing politics, unable to accommodate the different dynamic of Quebec’s national struggle.

The NDP voted for unilateral patriation of Canada’s constitution in 1982 in the face of Quebec opposition. In the early 1970s it expelled the left-wing Waffle, which supported Quebec self-determination.[3]

Did the 2011 federal election, when the NDP managed to elect a majority of Quebec MPs, disprove this historical record? On the contrary. That result reflected a confluence of several factors, all of them conjunctural. Traditionally, the Quebec Francophone electorate votes defensively and pragmatically in federal elections, either to help elect a government with the most MPs from Quebec or to prevent parties perceived as relatively hostile to Quebec from winning government. Following the defeat of the Meech Lake Accord, however, the Bloc Québécois (BQ) provided an alternative opportunity to promote “Quebec interests” in Parliament, helping to fend off unwanted federalist incursions on Quebec jurisdiction.

But the BQ is confined to Quebec. In 2011, when it was suffering from the the decline of the PQ and the Harper Tories were threatening to form a majority government, Quebec voters sought a federal option that could more effectively defend them from that danger. The NDP under Jack Layton was able to position itself as the alternative, helped by the apparent tolerance of Quebec self-determination expressed in the party’s Sherbrooke Declaration.

The NDP proved unable to sustain that support, especially with Thomas Mulcair as its new leader. Even before his ascendency, the party’s resistance to Quebec nationalism was revealed when it forced leading MPs like Nycole Turmel (the interim leader) and Alexandre Boulerice to drop their QS (and Bloc) memberships. This was a bottom-line issue for the NDP. And since then the party has been unable to sink roots in Quebec. It is barely hanging on to its reduced caucus of 16 MPs, its membership is down to fewer than 5,000 (Le Devoir, Aug. 30), and efforts to build a “provincial” Quebec NDP have gone nowhere.

So the Quebec electorate has reverted to its old pattern of voting for what it perceives to be the “lesser evil” — in 2015, the Trudeau Liberals — to the detriment of the NDP.

In Quebec the revival of a powerful movement for political independence, combined with relatively strong social movements, can be an incentive for activists to think of achieving their objectives through creation of a sovereign Quebec with a government based on social justice movements. And that in turn can awaken a positive response to Quebec national demands among progressives outside of Quebec.

But in the ROC, lacking an adequate political vehicle, social movement activists are less likely to think in terms of socialist-oriented power, the creation of a new kind of state as I have defined it, and more likely to think only of trying to convince governments to adopt progressive reforms.

That said, what can be some common campaigns with shared objectives of the broad left in both nations? I’ll mention only two obvious ones — fighting capitalist austerity and fighting for climate justice, especially in opposition to the extractivist economic model — both issues offering important opportunities for forging class alliances with indigenous activists. The key role of the indigenous in leading the fight against climate change, in particular, is signalled in the Leap Manifesto (even though the Manifesto ignores the progressive potential of Quebec independence in posing a real governmental alternative).

Like the Québécois, indigenous militants have little reason to limit their demands to what is possible within the context of the existing state. And in Quebec, they have what can be an important ally. The Québec solidaire program acknowledges the sovereignty of “the ten Amerindian peoples and the Inuit people who also inhabit Quebec territory.”[4] And QS pledges its support to their “fundamental right” to national self-determination, however they may choose to exercise that right — whether through self-government within a sovereign Quebec or through the political independence of their own communities, which cover almost half of Quebec’s present territory.

It remains to be seen what the NDP will commit to next year when it determines its position on the Leap Manifesto, but whatever that decision the party cannot be relied on to incorporate or implement the thinking behind the Manifesto. A key test for the federal NDP will be how it approaches the pending confrontation between the party’s governments in Alberta and now British Columbia over the future of tar sands oil pipelines.

The Québec solidaire programmatic proposals, both in some particular demands and as a whole, cannot be implemented short of breaking from the federal state and establishing a fully sovereign Quebec.

By way of conclusion, I think the ROC left need not support Quebec independence in order to facilitate such alliances, but it does have to understand how the Quebec national question impacts the perspectives for joint campaigns and endeavours with Québécois social movement activists. And I would go further.

I think the Canadian left, and indeed consistent democrats, have good reason to go beyond the defense of the right of self-determination and to express solidarity with the demand of most progressives in Quebec for political independence, even if only to help provoke a public rethinking of the undemocratic nature of Canada’s state structures and how they might be reconceived and reconfigured, with or without Quebec, to facilitate the pursuit of a progressive social agenda of equality and solidarity among the constituent peoples within the existing state. This, in my opinion, is a class question, not just national.

There might be some surprising responses, too. In a recent book chronicling a tour of his electoral constituency in Northern Quebec,[5] Romeo Saganash, a Cree leader and as it happens an NDP member of the federal parliament, expresses an idea that must surely have occurred to other indigenous activists. “There has never been a country constituted with the participation of the First Nations. The sovereignty of Quebec could be the opportunity for that!,” Saganash tells the book’s author, a French woman. She says he spoke seriously: “an independent Quebec could be the framework within which the First Nations would win emancipation.”

Food for thought.


[1] Published by the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung, 2017.

[2] The province of Quebec is the constitutionally established political form of the “Quebec nation,” which encompasses the majority “Québécois nation,” its members having French as their first language, as well as Anglophone and other ethnic and national minorities — with French as the common language of public discourse and national life. The dozen aboriginal peoples (First Nations and Inuit) residing within the province have been recognized since the 1980s in Quebec legislation as distinct nations “within Quebec.” Québec solidaire, the left sovereigntist party, further recognizes the “fundamental right” of Quebec’s aboriginal peoples to national self-determination however they choose to exercise that right — whether through self-government within a Quebec state or through their own independence. See “Quebec left debates strategy for independence.”

[3] The Waffle, however, hoped to win Quebec support for its overriding project of building “Canadian independence” from US imperialism, falsely viewed as turning Canada into a dependent semi-colony.

[4] Quebec’s indigenous peoples were officially recognized as nations by the National Assembly in the mid-1980s.

[5] Emmanuelle Walter, Le Centre du Monde: Une virée en Eeyou Istchee, Baie-James, avec Romeo Saganash (Lux Éditeur, 2016), p. 77.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Venezuela's Chavistas register highest vote since 2012 in Constituent Assembly election

The National Constituent Assembly elected in Venezuela yesterday with the sole support of the Chavistas registered more than 8 million votes, or 41.53% of the electorate. This was substantially more than the 7 million votes for Nicolás Maduro in the 2013 presidential elections and much more than the 5.5 million votes for the Chavista coalition in the 2015 legislative elections, when the opposition won 7.7 million votes largely thanks to the abstention of some two million former Chavista supporters. The country’s opposition parties, currently in control of the National Assembly, boycotted the election.

Among the 545 constituentes elected were First Lady Cilia Flores, the first Vice-President of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) Diosdado Cabello, and the former foreign minister Delcy Rodriguez. The results were announced by the president of the National Electoral Council (CNE) Tibisay Lucena around midnight last night. So many Venezuelans lined up to vote that the electoral process was extended to 10:30 p.m.

The newly elected Constituent Assembly is made up of 364 members elected by territorial constituency -- one per municipality, two per state capital and seven per Capital District (Caracas) -- and 181 according to social or class sector (24 students, 8 peasants and fishers, 5 business people, 5 disabled, 28 pensioners, 24 communal council representatives, 79 workers and 8 indigenous (the latter to be elected this Tuesday in assemblies to be held in three states).

The National Constituent Assembly (ANC) will begin sitting 72 hours after the official declaration of those elected. Maduro has indicated that it will be tasked with reforms of the economic and justice systems, reaffirmation of the pluricultural character of the country, the “preservation of life on the planet,” and the constitutional recognition of all the government social and cultural missions and the Communal Power. In popular assemblies held throughout the country during the three months prior to yesterday’s vote some 22 sectors and social movements (communes, workers, cultural and environmental collectives, etc.) debated and adopted proposals for action by the ANC.

Maduro, in his victory speech last night, said the ANC will, among other tasks, take action against the "parasitical bourgeoisie," largely held responsible for the country's current economic crisis. (La Razón, Correo del Orinoco.)

For more on the election and the immediate tasks facing the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, see

George Ciccariello-Maher, Which Way Out of the Venezuelan Crisis?

Joe Emersberger, Trump Is Not the Venezuelan Supreme Court

Boaventura de Sousa Santos, In Defence of Venezuela

-- Richard Fidler

Thursday, July 20, 2017

‘If I were Catalan, I would have no choice but to vote yes to independence’

Jaime Pastor, interviewed by Josep Casulleras Nualart

Introduction

On October 1, by decision of the Catalan government, the region’s voters will be asked in a referendum “Do you want Catalonia to become an independent state in the form of a republic?”

Manifestación 11 Setembre

The referendum, which is the culmination of years of mass mobilizations by Catalans in favour of independence, has come under sharp attack by the Spanish government headed by Mariano Rajoy, which in recent years has used the Constitution, the central parliament and the courts to deny the Catalan people the right to determine independently the constitutional status of their nation. This is a case of longstanding oppression. Under the regime of General Francisco Franco, which emerged triumphant in the Spanish Civil War, Catalans were even denied the right to use their own majority language, Catalan.

A recent article published in the web-based daily Público entitled “Legitimacy and legality. With the right to vote on October 1” attracted considerable controversy. The author, Jaime Pastor, an influential Marxist activist and intellectual, criticized leaders of Spain’s new left party Podemos who have aligned themselves with the dominant Spanish nationalism in attacking the October 1 referendum in Catalonia. Pastor is the author of, inter alia, a book on the national question, the Spanish state and the left that in my opinion contains one of the best explanations anywhere of the historical development of the Marxist approach to the national question.[1]

Pastor’s article focused in particular on the prevalent misreading in Spain of the international jurisprudence on the exercise of self-determination by minority nations within existing states. In the following interview he defends the Catalan referendum and addresses some of the major political implications of the October 1 vote.

Jaime Pastor is a political science professor at the Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia [National University of Distance Education] in Madrid and editor of Viento Sur, a journal of ideas and analysis. The interview was first published in Catalan. I have translated the Spanish text, which was published in Viento Sur.

Of particular interest to Canadian socialists attempting to understand the Quebec national question is the fact that Pastor speaks as a leftist in the dominant nation, Spain, who advocates a vote for independence in the dominated Catalonia. The reasons he gives — above all, the inability to remedy Catalonia’s inequality under the existing Spanish constitutional and political regime — could apply, mutatis mutandis, in Canada, where outside of Quebec (and now the indigenous communities) there is an historic unwillingness to even discuss, let alone accommodate, the demands of Québécois and indigenous peoples for autonomous status as distinct nations within or without the Canadian social formation.

Most recently, the modest request by Quebec premier Philippe Couillard, a staunch federalist, for a dialogue with Canadians aimed at eventually re-opening constitutional talks in the hope of finally getting Quebec’s approval of the 1982 Constitution was met with a prompt No by Prime Minister Trudeau, who had not even read Couillard’s 200-page book.[2]

Following Pastor’s argument, which I find compelling, I would argue that the historical record proves that the Canadian left, and indeed consistent democrats, must go beyond the defense of the right of self-determination and support the demand of most progressives in Quebec (including in the left party Québec solidaire) for independence, even if only to provoke a public rethinking of the undemocratic nature of Canadian state structures and how they might be reconceived and reconfigured, with or without Quebec, to facilitate the pursuit of a progressive social agenda and solidarity among the constituent peoples within the existing state.

This is timely reading during the official celebrations of what the dominant authorities term the 150th anniversary of “Canada” — in fact, the granting by the British monarchy in 1867 of home rule to four of its overseas colonies in North America, with the definitive denial of nationhood to the Francophone and indigenous peoples.[3]

Richard Fidler

Interview with Jaime Pastor

You said “If I were Catalan, I would go to vote.” What would be your vote?

I am not an independentist, but I recognize that the attempt to federalize the Spanish state has proved impossible. And I recognize that there is no desire for a federal agreement among the majority of the Spanish parties. In that context, I would have no choice but to vote yes. It would be desirable if the yes to independence were to lead to some kind of confederal arrangement or a free state associated with the various peoples in the Spanish state, although not with the Spanish state as such. That is, it would be a question of forcing, on the basis of the vote in Catalonia, an opening in the “nut” at the core of the constitutional debate, and the opening of constituent processes. And in that context, arriving at a confederal arrangement. I defend the option of separation in order to allow negotiations between equals.

Where you surprised by [Podemos leader] Pablo Iglesias’ criticism of the October 1 referendum?

Yes, because I think that this time he acted hastily, given the position of Podem Catalunya [the Catalonian Podemos], and the fact that the debate on the referendum was still going on in the communes.

What do you attribute this to, Iglesias’ misgivings about the referendum?

There are two factors. On the one hand, there is a basic problem which is that although Podemos has been talking about plurinationality, it still holds to a vision in which the idea of the Spanish nation prevails over others. And I think that there is an underestimation of the evolution of a major part of the Podemos electorate. Perhaps they overestimate the weight that is still exercised by a Spanish nationalism that pays little attention to the fact that recognizing the plurinational reality also means recognizing the right to decide. Perhaps there is the weight of electoralist considerations in opposition to the consistent defence of the right to decide. Perhaps they were thinking that outside of Catalonia defending participation in this referendum would not be understood. But there are recent articles and studies indicating that among the Podemos voters there is a growing oppenness toward being consistent, that is, that there are indeed several nations, and that the Partido Popular [PP] government is blocking the exercise of a referendum, and given that the path to an agreement is closed the only type of referendum that is possible is this one.

Is Podemos also a prisoner of the complex of not being sufficiently Spanish?

That’s a factor. There is a certain fear of being accused of having placed themselves on the side of those who want to break up the unity of Spain. That is the discourse of Pablo Iglesias, that they are in favour of a referendum but that they would defend remaining in Spain. There is a fear of appearing to oppose the idea of the unity of Spain. On the other hand, we see that the entity that does the most to challenge that unity is the PP itself. Of even greater weight is the fear of being consistent with the defense of plurinationality, and not only in cultural terms as the [Social Democratic] PSOE says but in political terms. That is, recognizing Catalonia as something differentiated from the rest of Spain.

You were also surprised by [United Left leader] Alberto Garzón’s attack on October 1. He says it means legitimizing the Catalan right wing.

Unfortunately, a culture that has been dominant in the Communist Party of Spain still weighs heavily on Izquierda Unida [United Left], which defends the right of self-determination but still only in the federal framework. It has not stopped defending the right of self-determination as the right to separation. But on the other hand in this case the part is taken for the whole. One can be critical of the PDeCAT [Partit Demòcrata Europeu Català, a nationalist Catalan government party] but I think this is an excuse. We cannot say that we defend the referendum only if it is a radical and consistent Left that hegemonizes this demand. It seems to me an idea of the Left that basically obscures the weight of a culture that still thinks there is one nation above all of the others.

Are they unaware of the Catalan reality?

There is a certain lack of understanding, yes. We see that EUiA [United and Alternative Left, the Catalan counterpart of the United Left in Spain] is prepared to participate in a mobilization. The United Left in Spain is unaware of the enormous plurality and diversity that exists in the whole of this majority of Catalan society that is demanding a referendum; whether or not it is possible through an agreement, it can be done within the given possibilities. There are sectors that want to go beyond an independence that does not alter the social situation in Catalonia and there are those who want to go further like the CUP [Candidatura d'Unitat Popular, a leftist Catalan party]. Yes, there is some misunderstanding, and the old culture that has not stopped taking its distance from the idea of a nation of nations.

The Catalonian communes also have a mistrust of the referendum. They talk of guarantees.

They are waiting for the government to clarify what the list of registered voters will be, how the election will be audited, what international observers there will be, etc. I think it is legitimate to demand more guarantees, whatever can be done to ensure that the referendum is given international reocognition. In the meantime, it must be supported; I would be a partisan of the minority position within this convergence, which is to support critical participation in the referendum and to ask that the questions that are not sufficiently clear be clarified. It seems to me legitimate that there are doubts, but this does not appear to me to be enough to bar support for this referendum and a call to participate in it.

You say the referendum is legitimate and legal.

Of course. That is certainly true if we understand that international jurisprudence prevails in those constitutions that explicitly undertake to accept those international agreements. Take, for example, the ruling of the International Court of Justice in Serbia’s appeal in the case of Kosovo. There is an evident recognition that in some particular situations the referendum can have all the legal guarantees if it is conducted peacefully, if the attempts [by the minority nation] to reach an agreement with the state have been exhausted, and if the decision to separate has been taken by a majority of the affected society. Now, the big challenge of Catalan society is to demonstrate that in this referendum a majority of the population participates.

What consequences will the referendum have in the Spanish state?

If the referendum is held and there is substantial participation, it will be an important blow to the ’78 regime.[4] That’s why I say to the various peoples of Spain who are critical of the Spanish state that we have an interest in supporting the referendum. Furthermore, let us not forget that the question to be asked proposes the formula of a Catalan republic. Accordingly, it would be the opening of a definitive breach in the regime, and not only in the self-governing state but also in the monarchy as the cornerstone of this regime. And we ought to see how Spanish society would react.

How would it react?

Keep in mind that Spanish society is concerned not with the independence of Catalonia but with the cutbacks in social spending, health, education, etc. It would help even more if, along with the referendum, there were a determination to overcome the cutbacks that Catalonia, too, has suffered. We have already seen the guaranteed income and the annulment of the Francoist sentences approved by the [Catalan] parliament. If Catalonia shows that it not only wants to vote in the referendum but also that they are challenging the policies of austerity, solidarity with the democratic demand outside of Catalonia would increase further.

Could there be a situation of regression?

If the referendum were blocked through repressive measures, that would imply a democratic regression in the Spanish state as a whole. We see how free speech is being criminalized as in the harsh use of the criminal code with the gag law, the contempt for the anti-Francoist legacy, and the process of recentralizing the police; this would also be to the detriment of the Basque country and Galicia.

Better that we get it right…

Yes, yes. What is at stake is the road toward a break with the ’78 regime and toward a radical democratization of Spanish society. Or, on the contrary, toward a more authoritarian course.

What will the PSOE do?

The PSOE has tried to take its distance from the possible use of the repressive article 155 of the Constitution.[5] It cannot close ranks with the PP in opposition to the demand for a referendum but neither can it appear to be questioning the unity of Spain. And the PSOE’s problem is that it lacks the credibility to be able to demonstrate that the sort of proposals it makes is viable. It will be important to see how Catalan society evolves and how the [Catalan social democratic] PSC comes to see that it must allow some type of recognition of the referendum. Now, within the PSOE there are positions like those of Pérez Tapias or Odón Elorza, who have defended a clarity law like the one in Canada. They still have time to present an emergency measure in the Congress, as they did when they imposed neoliberal austerity. Now there is sufficient urgency to come up with a possible organic law on the referendum.

And after October 1, won’t the PSOE close ranks with the PP to preserve the unity of Spain?

The PSOE will reject the result of the referendum if it does not have massive participation. This could create a profound crisis in the PSOE, and we will then have to see what position the PSC takes. If the PSOE lines up with the PP it will become a subaltern force of the PP, which is what [PSOE leader] Pedro Sánchez has sought to avoid. It would be the old tradition of [former PSOE leader] Felipe González that would emerge triumphant.

13/07/2017

Further reading

Dick Nichols, Showdown in Catalonia: Can the independence referendum actually happen?

Dick Nichols, Catalonia versus the Spanish state: the battleground in 2017


[1] Jaime Pastor, Los nacionalismos, el Estado español y la izquierda (2012: Viento Sur, Madrid), now in its second printing. Online. See in particular the first chapter, “Una perspectiva histórico y teórico.”

[2] In its English translation, Quebecers: Our Way of Being Canadian.

[3] For more on this, see A Québécois view of Canada’s 150th by the indigenous constitutional lawyer André Binette.

[4] The Constitution adopted in 1978 adopted by the PP and PSOE after Franco’s death. It fails to recognize the right of self-determination of Spain’s constituent peoples or nations.

[5] This article allows the Senate, where the PP has a majority, to suspend a regional government if it fails to comply with the Constitution or “seriously jeopardizes the general interest of Spain.”

Monday, June 26, 2017

The Left and Venezuela

By Claudio Katz[1]

June 12, 2017

SUMMARY

The media keep silent about the violence of the Venezuelan opposition and the prevailing repression by the right-wing governments of Latin America. The Right’s strategy of an institutional coup faces serious limits, but the Left must address this new threat, supporting anti-imperialist decisions and making a distinction between the capitalist boycott and the government’s ineffectiveness.

Adhering to social-democratic standards, the post-progressive “critical left” objects to Chavismo, dismissing the danger of a coup, and mistakenly identifying authoritarianism as the main danger. The dogmatists overlook the main enemy and converge with the conservatives or slip toward passive neutrality.

The Right only wants elections it is sure it will win. In these very adverse conditions, the Constituent Assembly re-opens opportunities and points to a re-encounter with radical intellectual thought.

supporters_of_venezuelaxs_president_nicolas_maduro_participate_in_a_rally_in_support_of_the_national_constituent_assembly_in_caracas_jpg_1718483346

Supporters of President Nicolás Maduro participate in a rally in Caracas in support of the national Constituent Assembly.


[1] Economist, researcher with Argentina’s National Council of Scientific and Technical Research (CONICET), professor at the University of Buenos Aires and a member of the Economists of the Left (EDI). His web page, where this article first appeared, is at www.lahaine.org/katz.

Full Text (pdf): https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B0Q-0xxlqzOeT1lxdDdZQ3hyQWM/view

Monday, June 19, 2017

Cuba responds to Trump’s roll-back of its bilateral relations with United States

The following statement was issued June 16 by the Revolutionary Government of Cuba. Here is the official English translation, modified very slightly for punctuation and syntax. The original text, in Spanish, is here.

Declaración del gobierno revolucionario

On June 16, 2017, in a Miami theater, US President Donald Trump delivered a speech full of hostile anti-Cuban rhetoric reminiscent of the times of open confrontation with our country. He announced his government’s Cuba policy, which rolls back the progress achieved over the last two years since December 17, 2014, when Presidents Raúl Castro and Barack Obama announced the decision to re-establish diplomatic relations and engage in a process towards the normalization of bilateral relations.

In what constitutes a setback in the relations between both countries, President Trump gave a speech and signed a policy directive titled “National Security Presidential Memorandum,” which provides for the elimination of private educational “people-to-people” exchanges and for greater control over all travelers to Cuba, as well as the prohibition of business, trade and financial transactions between US companies and certain Cuban companies linked to the Revolutionary Armed Forces and the intelligence and security services, under the alleged objective of depriving us of revenue. The US president justified this policy using alleged concerns over the human rights situation in Cuba and the need to rigorously enforce the US blockade laws, conditioning their lifting, as well as any improvements in US-Cuba bilateral relations, to our country’s making changes inherent to its constitutional order.

Trump also abrogated Presidential Policy Directive “Normalization of Relations between the United States and Cuba,” issued by President Obama on October 14, 2016. Although said Directive did not conceal the interventionist character of the US policy nor the fact that its main purpose was to advance US interests in order to bring about changes in the economic, political and social systems of our country, it did recognize Cuba’s independence, sovereignty and self-determination and the Cuban government as a legitimate and equal interlocutor, as well as the benefits that a civilized coexistence would have for both countries and peoples despite the great differences that exist between both governments. The Directive also conceded that the blockade is an obsolete policy and that it should be lifted.

Once again, the US Government resorts to coercive methods of the past when it adopts measures aimed at stepping up the blockade, effective since February 1962, which not only causes harm and deprivations to the Cuban people and is the main obstacle to our economic development, but also affects the sovereignty and interests of other countries, which arouses international rejection.

The measures announced impose additional obstacles to the already very limited opportunities that the US business sector had in order to trade with and invest in Cuba.

Likewise, those measures restrict even more the right of US citizens to visit our country, which was already limited due to the obligation of using discriminatory licenses, at a moment when the US Congress, echoing the feelings of broad sectors of that society, calls not only for an end to the travel ban, but also for the elimination of the restrictions on trade with Cuba.

The measures announced by President Trump run counter to the majority support of US public opinion, including the Cuban emigration in that country, to the total lifting of the blockade and the establishment of normal relations between Cuba and the United States.

Instead, the US President, who has been once again ill-advised, is taking decisions that favor the political interests of an irrational minority of Cuban origin in the state of Florida which, out of petty motivations, does not give up its intent to punish Cuba and its people for exercising the legitimate and sovereign right of being free and having taken the reins of their own destiny.

Later on, we shall make a deeper analysis of the scope and implications of the announcement.

The Government of Cuba condemns the new measures to tighten the blockade, which are doomed to failure, as has been repeatedly evidenced in the past, for they will not succeed in their purpose to weaken the Revolution or bend the Cuban people, whose resistance against aggressions of all sorts and origins has been put to the test throughout almost six decades.

The Government of Cuba rejects political manipulation and double standards in human rights. The Cuban people enjoy fundamental rights and freedoms and can proudly show some achievements that are still a chimera for many countries of the world, including the United States, such as the right to health, education and social security; equal pay for equal work, children’s rights as well as the rights to food, peace and development. Cuba, with its modest resources, has also contributed to the improvement of the human rights situation in many countries of the world, despite the limitations inherent to its condition as a blockaded country.

The United States are not in the position to teach us lessons. We have serious concerns about the respect for and guarantees of human rights in that country, where there are numerous cases of murders, brutality and abuses by the police, particularly against the African-American population; the right to life is violated as a result of the deaths caused by fire arms; child labor is exploited and there are serious manifestations of racial discrimination; there is a threat to impose more restrictions on medical services, which will leave 23 million persons without health insurance; there is unequal pay between men and women; migrants and refugees, particularly those who come from Islamic countries, are marginalized; there is an attempt to put up walls that discriminate against and denigrate neighbor countries; and international commitments to preserve the environment and address climate change are abandoned.

Also a source of concern are the human rights violations by the United States in other countries, such as the arbitrary detention of tens of prisoners in the territory illegally occupied by the US Naval Base in Guantánamo, Cuba, where even torture has been applied; extrajudicial executions and the death of civilians caused by drones; as well as the wars unleashed against countries like Iraq, under false pretenses like the possession of weapons of mass destruction, with disastrous consequences for the peace, security and stability in the Middle East.

It should be recalled that Cuba is a State Party to 44 international human rights instruments, while the US is only a State Party to 18. Therefore, we have much to show, say and defend.

Upon confirming the decision to re-establish diplomatic relations, Cuba and the United States ratified their intention to develop respectful and cooperative relations between both peoples and governments, based on the principles and purposes enshrined in the UN Charter. In its Declaration issued on July 1, 2015, the Revolutionary Government of Cuba reaffirmed that “these relations must be founded on absolute respect for our independence and sovereignty; the inalienable right of every State to choose its political, economic, social and cultural system, without interference in any form; and sovereign equality and reciprocity, which constitute inalienable principles of International Law”, as was established in the Proclamation of Latin America and the Caribbean as a Zone of Peace, signed by the Heads of State and Government of the Community of Latin America and Caribbean States (CELAC), at its second summit held in Havana. Cuba has not renounced these principles, nor will it ever do so.

The Government of Cuba reiterates its will to continue a respectful and cooperative dialogue on topics of mutual interest, as well as the negotiation of outstanding issues with the US Government. During the last two years it has been evidenced that both countries, as was repeatedly expressed by the President of the Councils of State and of Ministers, Army General Raúl Castro Ruz, can cooperate and coexist in a civilized manner, respecting the differences and promoting everything that benefits both nations and peoples, but it should not be expected that, in order to achieve that, Cuba would make concessions inherent to its sovereignty and independence, or accept preconditions of any sort.

Any strategy aimed at changing the political, economic and social system in Cuba, either through pressures and impositions or by using more subtle methods, shall be doomed to failure.

The changes that need to be made in Cuba, as those that have been made since 1959 and the ones that we are introducing now as part of the process to update our economic and social system, will continue to be sovereignly determined by the Cuban people.

Just as we have been doing since the triumph of the Revolution on January 1st, 1959, we will take on every risk and shall continue to advance steadfastly and confidently in the construction of a sovereign, independent, socialist, democratic, prosperous and sustainable nation.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Quebec sovereigntists debate fallout from Québec solidaire’s decisions on alliances

As I explained in my previous report on the Québec solidaire congress, it was disclosed after the congress that the QS central leadership had disavowed the signatures by its representatives on a proposed “road map” to independence drafted in April by the coalition OUI Québec, which includes all the pro-independence parties including QS.

That decision, not reported to the QS congress delegates in late May, has since given rise so far to several articles, all of them published in the Montréal nationalist daily Le Devoir. I have translated them below. They include, in order:

· an explanation of its decisions by the QS national leadership, signed by the party’s newly-elected president Nika Deslauriers;

· an explanation and defense of the QS conception of its proposed constituent assembly, the major point of contention, by Daniel Raunet, a former union leader;

· a reply to Raunet by two OUI Québec leaders including its president Claudette Carbonneau, former president (2002-2011) of the Confederation of National Trade Unions (CSN); and

· a comment by Sol Zanetti, the leader of Option nationale (ON).

Zanetti is replying to the release by Quebec Liberal premier Philippe Couillard on June 1 of a 200-page book he has sponsored — titled in its English translation Quebecers: Our Way of Being Canadian — calling for re-opening of constitutional talks with the rest of Canada in the hope of finally getting Quebec’s approval of the 1982 Constitution, disavowed at the time by a near-unanimous vote of the members of Quebec’s National Assembly.

Zanetti’s article is his party’s first official statement following the QS congress’s vote to move toward a possible fusion with ON. And it is also, as expected, a challenge to QS to “review the mandate it wants to give to its constituent assembly proposal.”

Richard Fidler

* * *

Québec solidaire rejects the catastrophic scenario of the Liberals’ inevitable re-election

by Nika Deslauriers, President of Québec solidaire

Le Devoir, May 26, 2017

At our congress — busy, but stimulating — the members of Québec solidaire made some important decisions. Our party’s program is now complete, we have two new spokespersons with the wind in their sails, we have chosen to undertake negotiations toward a fusion with Option nationale.

Of course, much ink has spilled over the contentious issue of electoral pacts with the Parti québécois. The discussions were intense, our members debated them for several months, on many occasions, in various bodies. So it was after much thought that we chose to have confidence in our means and to offer all Québécois a chance to vote for Québec solidaire. We refused to let ourselves be discouraged by catastrophic and hasty scenarios that, absent electoral pacts, prophesize the inevitable re-election of the Liberal party. Our ambition is to prove they are wrong.

That is also the perspective from which we want to address the issue of Quebec independence and it is therefore with optimism that we anticipate the work ahead with civil society and the sovereigntist parties notwithstanding the tumult of recent days. It is our opinion that we should not confuse the question of electoral pacts for 2018 with the question of the mechanics for accession to independence. Yes, we have chosen to run QS candidates in all ridings in 2018. But this decision is not in contradiction with continuing work on the road map to independence. We are aware, however, that this decision may have disappointed the other parties in the OUI Québec talks. That is why we think, as does the OUI Québec president Ms. Claudette Carbonneau, that it is a good thing to put the discussions on ice for now.

Room for collaboration

Moreover, we wish to reaffirm that we will continue to collaborate in the work of OUI Québec at the appropriate time. Collaboration of various parties on issues of common interest to them is perfectly desirable. We will all emerge stronger. That is the case, for example, on the issue of proportional representation on which all of the parties other than the Quebec Liberal party have agreed thanks to the initiative of the Mouvement démocratie nouvelle.

As was the case for reform of the electoral system, we are delighted that the social movement and some other parties have rallied to our project. In the case of independence, there is now a consensus on the constituent assembly as the way in which to become a country, and this is excellent news. This option, which we have been defending for years, is making headway. We are very hopeful that the continuation of work with OUI Québec will enable us to convince the other parties and independentist movements in civil society that we gain from aiming for a broad, democratic and unifying popular consultation in order to make Quebec a country.

We all emerged from this great congress with a lot of pride and enthusiasm. And we have no illusions as we set about the colossal task awaiting us: winning as many people as possible to our project of a country. We will spare no effort in publicizing our positions, our program, and in convincing Quebec that our hope for change is within reach. Based on our more than ten years’ experience in politics, we are confident that hundreds of thousands of people share our vision of an independent Quebec that is fairer and greener.

We want to share this reaffirmed confidence in our party with the whole of Quebec. We want the population to regain possession of its powers and its democracy. We hope that, like us, the Québécois can forthrightly claim what is owing to them: free and quality healthcare and education, an economy that serves the people, decent conditions of life and work, a healthy environment, a democracy that works. We want those who believe in a better Quebec to act on that belief and to work with us to make it a reality. We need not be ashamed of our legitimate demands, our realizable aspirations, our political option. The election of a left government in Quebec is not only desirable, it is eminently possible and it will be beneficial to its citizens.

The real pitfall: the constituent assembly on independence alone

by Daniel Raunet, retired journalist, former president of the Radio-Canada communications union, and member of Québec solidaire

Le Devoir, May 27, 2017

How to convince the 15% or 20% of Québécois who consistently fail to support the call for independence? The present crisis in the sovereigntist camp obscures two fundamentally different responses to this question.

Before tackling it, my training as a journalist constrained to keep to the facts obliges me to acknowledge that my party, Québec solidaire, acted in a completely bureaucratic and opaque way in this affair. The QS claim to do politics differently has just suffered a crushing blow with the disavowal of the signature of its negotiators at the bottom of the OUI Québec road map toward independence. Were Andrés Fontecilla and Monique Moisan mandated to sign this document? Were there other persons within the QS national coordination committee aware of what was coming? After weeks of omertà, the party members and congress delegates like me did not have the honour of a clear explanation. So much for our anti-system flights of oratory.

That said, beyond the necessary clarifications on who did what, when and why, it seems to me that the fundamental reason for the crisis between OUI Québec and the QS leadership was lost in the tempest. And that is that the central element in the road map endorsed by all the other sovereigntist parties is in flagrant contradiction with the official program of Québec solidaire. This program provides for the creation of a constituent assembly elected by universal suffrage without a pre-determined mandate as to the national future of Quebec. An “open” constituent assembly in which federalists and autonomists are welcome. The other parties in OUI Québec have rallied to another formula, Option nationale’s, an assembly with a “closed” mandate, the drafting of the constitution of an independent Quebec. From that perspective, federalists are in theory welcome, but what are they going to do in a constituent assembly that works on a project they reject?

How to win over the unconvinced

How to win over the unconvinced? That’s the nub of the problem facing all the independentists. Who are these recalcitrants? The majority of the Anglophones, but also some Francophones almost everywhere, in Quebec City, the Beauce region, the Outaouais. And above all some citizens from immigrant communities, the cultural communities.

The classic strategy of the Parti québécois, Option nationale and the Bloc québécois has remained the same since the sovereigntist movement began. The unconvinced have not understood, we are going to hammer the truth into them and they will see the light. And after a few weeks of a referendum campaign we will ask them to vote on a project drafted by the sovereigntist clan, government or closed constituent assembly. They will only have to vote yes or no to our marvellous project.

Unfortunately, they voted no in 1980 and in 1995 and, if the polls are right, they will vote no again now. For a very simple reason: the adversaries of independence have no obligation to get involved in the substantive debate. They only have to denigrate the sovereigntist project, even conduct a campaign of fear and call on the electorate to vote no. The worst of strategies, from their standpoint, would be to say what they propose in order to resolve Quebec’s national question.

Now, once you scratch a bit, you discover that the federalist camp is deeply divided on this question. There are the classic Trudeauists who think there is only one nation that counts, the Canadian one, and that Quebec should sign the 1982 Constitution as is. There are also the federalist but nationalist Québécois, who on the contrary have never digested the abandonment of the theory of two nations and who question the present constitutional order. These include some Liberals nostalgic for the Allaire report, and of course the autonomy supporters of the Coalition Avenir Québec, which has its shopping list of powers to be conceded by Ottawa: Quebec authority over language, culture and immigration, tax points and limits on the federal government’s taxing authority, increased control over the appointment of Supreme Court judges, a right of veto for the provinces, reform of the Senate, etc. And then there are the hypocrites and the discreet, the Couillards of this world, those who perpetually say the fruit is not ripe. Like the minister of health Gaétan Barrette, they protest from time to time against Ottawa’s encroachments on provincial jurisdiction, but for the most part they are silent.

A single strategy

Québec solidaire’s “open” version of the constituent assembly is, in my opinion, the only strategy currently available that can help break the façade of unity of the federalist camp. Let us suppose for a moment that an independentist government creates a constituent assembly, the mandate of which, based on the sovereignty of the Quebec people, consists in defining the future national status of Quebec without predetermining the response. The federalists who are used to saying no will have a choice between participating in the process or boycotting it. Whatever the hard-line Trudeauists decide to do, the debate, which will last for many months, will be truly national and each person will be obliged to plumb the depth of his or her thinking. The people can finally judge on the actual evidence. English Canada will react and we will see, I am sure, that the shake-up of the Canadian system advocated by the autonomists is of interest to almost no one on the other side of the [Ottawa] River. Much more effectively than with the classic referendum approach, the independentists will be able to argue that outside of submission to the Canadian constitution and the denial of self, there is only one outcome, independence.

This debate, as we can see, is closely mingled with the debate on possible fusion between QS and Option nationale. The road map of OUI Québec tends to settle the question without debate. That is why, in my opinion, the national leadership of Québec solidaire disavowed its negotiators. Over and beyond the legitimate bitterness of the other partners, the independentists must go back to the basic issue and forget their quarrels, which are almost theological for the average person. How to convince the unconvinced? That is the question.

The Constituent Assembly: A necessary clarification

By Claudette Carbonneau and Jason Brochu-Valcourt, President and Vice-president of Organisations unies pour l’indépendance (OUI Québec)

Le Devoir, May 30, 2017

We read with interest the letter published in Le Devoir last May 26[1] on the advantages of an open Constituent Assembly, that is, without a predefined mandate as to the type of country that is sought. We do not share this choice but we thank the author for contributing to the debate. He makes some very correct observations. He urges us to take into account the lessons of the past and to join in some strategic and pedagogic thinking. He notes that the federalists are not monolithic and that many aspire to a renewed constitution. He wants to leave the largest latitude possible to the Constituent Assembly. These are concerns that inform our approach as well.

The OUI Québec members are not new arrivals in this debate on a Constituent Assembly to give more substance to the proposal for a country and to get Quebec out of the dead-end in which it is stuck. For a long time we have been calling for this change of paradigm. We have held Estates General on the question, publishing our thinking in Forger notre avenir.[2] Above all, we had the audacity to propose to the independentist parties that they undertake an effort to reach agreement on a common path for achieving independence.

This was a big challenge. We took this responsibility seriously. We read, reflected, discussed and brought the best experts together. The cooling-off period we have called for should not have the effect of putting this thinking in the freezer! The public debate that is now opening on the fundamental issues is welcome and we hope to contribute actively to it.

To proceed to independence, we must gain additional support. In this sense, to interest federalists and open the debate with them is certainly of strategic and democratic interest. This question was moreover a real concern of the OUI Québec participants during the proceedings conducted with our partners in the Parti québécois, Québec solidaire, Option nationale and the Bloc québécois.

Despite the importance that we give to these strategic concerns, we must avoid two digressions. On the one hand, putting the independence project at risk and further dividing the supporters of independence. On the other hand, disappointing the federalists who have expectations about a renewed Canada by proposing a way to change the Canadian constitution that simply will not work. [...][3]

Drawing on republican thinking, the Constituent Assembly is alien to the Canadian legal system. And this gives the Canadian government and its Supreme Court some significant advantages of which we should be aware. Canada is governed by the rule of law. Whether we like it or not, we are a part of it, and it will not give us any gifts. The Supreme Court has already ruled that the Canadian Constitution applies to Quebec notwithstanding the unanimous rejection by the National Assembly. The federal government is not inclined to overlook this.

These considerations mean we cannot cross our arms but must fight for a Constituent Assembly with the mandate to draft the constitution of Quebec as a country. Without a clear mandate, we would dangerously weaken ourselves in the ferocious fight for legitimacy that will open up in Canada. [...]

Any ambiguity about the objective that is sought would allow Canada to claim that the Assembly’s proceedings can only produce an internal constitution of Quebec as a province, or vague demands for amendments to the Canadian Constitution. In short, a real disaster as to the objective sought, and a nameless legal quagmire. There are limits to providing all the space to strategic considerations to the detriment of a desired result. To miss our independence by over-reaching is the worst of solutions!

As good democrats, our federalist compatriots are invited to participate in the Constituent Assembly upheld by the electorate, as well as in the referendum that will close the process. We invite them to join in the public consultation that would organize the Assembly concerning the guidelines of the new State, its political institutions and the distribution of powers with the regions. A pedagogic exercise about independence is a large order in itself. Letting the federalists think that a constituent assembly is a practical way to amend the Canadian Constitution is an illusion that we reject.

To conquer our independence, it is indispensable to carry out a break with the Canadian constitutional order. There can be no ambiguity about this. Canada will fight tooth and nail. Meech, the stolen referendum, the Gomery Commission[4]... Does that remind you of something? The legal activism of the federal government to get the courts to invalidate Law 99,[5] which defines us a people with the right to self-determination, provides an indication of their willingness to obstruct this. We cannot behave as if we were conducting this battle as a cosy debate that is happening strictly among us.

Our proposals must be consistent. We must sustain hope by opening a real space for emancipation. That is the task OUI Quebec participants have set for themselves.

The independentists will have to make common cause if the constitutional debate opens

by Sol Zanetti, Leader of Option nationale

Le Devoir, June 2, 2017

Philippe Couillard is not launching a debate on constitutional negotiations as an attempt to divert attention from the disclosures of his links to Marc-Yvan Côté.[6] It’s a fortunate coincidence for him, but he could not have drafted a document of 200 pages in one week just for that. It’s a project that he had been pretending to put on ice, but one that he has been preparing for a long time.

If he had first reached an agreement with Mr. Trudeau to make it work, it would have been a stroke of genius. In the first place, he would have gone seeking that part of the CAQ[7] electorate that wants more power for Quebec within Canada. Secondly, his traditional adversary on this battlefield, the Parti québécois, is bound by its promise not to propose independence in the 2018 election.

However, the day after this news appeared, Mr. Trudeau whacked him down, assuring everyone that there will be no opening of the Constitution. If that is true, Mr. Couillard’s initiative falls through and he has made an enormous blunder. He has acknowledged that the status quo is unsustainable, while getting the road blocked to a transformation of Canada.

Four actions

If the Canadian prime minister’s response is sincere, Mr. Couillard is a very poor strategist. If, however, Mr. Trudeau’s refusal is just a set-up and he expects to change his mind in order to give everyone the impression that Mr. Couillard has gained politically, four actions will then become necessary.

The PQ will have to review its absurd promise not to undertake any independentist strategy in 2018.

Québec solidaire will have to review the mandate it wants to give to its constituent assembly proposal, for it will have to have a clear position in order to oppose this attempt at constitutional “bafflegab.” If the opening of the Constitution becomes the key issue in the next election, those with a middle ground, allowing an interpretation with 50 nuances perhaps, will find themselves between two chairs and will be shunned by the voters.

The negotiations on the OUI Québec road map will have to succeed, for the independentists will need a common strategy more than ever. If we present too many different options in a debate that will be so polarized, we are going to lose. If Canada agrees to give Mr. Couillard just half of the five conditions he has posed, he will accept that instead of losing face. He will then sign the Constitution without a referendum, on the strength of his parliamentary majority elected by 29% of the registered voters.

Then QS and the PQ will have to envisage the idea of temporary electoral pacts at the dawn of a new conjuncture. I know that no one wants that, but on this the superior interest of the nation is going to require it more than it ever has since the 1990s.

Why? Because signing on to the Constitution Act of 1982 would have terrible consequences. First, it would give an appearance of legitimacy to this regime designed to deny Quebec democracy and truncate our difference. Second, because signing this law would entail a further reversal for Law 101, giving constitutional support to the right to English schools for immigrants from the Anglo-Saxon world.[8] The consequences for the future of French in North America could be irreversible. Is that really what we want?

Perhaps I am exaggerating the threat of this Liberal attempt to get us to sign the Canadian constitution. Philippe Couillard may be a very poor strategist. But whatever the case, we have a duty to begin thinking through all the possible outcomes.


[1] Apparently a reference to the op ed article published in Le Devoir on May 27, not May 26: “Le véritable écueil: la consituante sur la seule indépendance” [translated above]

[2] Extensive excerpts from this book are on-line (French only) at http://www.wikiquebec.org/Forger_notre_avenir.

[3] The ellipses in this article are Le Devoir’s. It is unclear whether they indicate that a part of the text has been omitted here.

[4] Respectively: the federal-provincial Meech Lake Accord on reform of the Constitution, rejected by two provinces (Manitoba and Newfoundland) in 1990; the 1995 Quebec referendum on sovereignty narrowly defeated through federal intervention in violation of Quebec law; and the federal inquiry condemning Ottawa’s illegal and corrupt public funding of pro-federalist propaganda in Quebec.

[5] An Act respecting the exercise of the fundamental rights and prerogatives of the Québec people and the Québec State, adopted by the National Assembly in response to the Clarity Act of the federal parliament imposing limits on the exercise of a future Quebec referendum on independence.

[6] This is an implicit reply to Québec solidaire’s Amir Khadir, who dismissed Couillard’s move with this allegation tied to the latest scandal involving the premier.

[7] The CAQ (Coalition Avenir Québec) is now ranked second in opinion polling, slightly ahead of the Official Opposition PQ.

[8] Zanetti is referring here to section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, “Minority Language Educational Rights,” which is part of the 1982 Constitution. Law 101 is the Quebec Charter of the French Language.