Why Quebec Says No to War

Article excerpt

Just over half the Canadians polled this past November strongly opposed missile defence. In Quebec, opposition to Star Wars was stronger by far: nearly two thirds were strongly opposed. This popular opposition, in addition to being co-opted by the Bloc Quebecois, also managed to break the ice with the Liberal Party and won the support of the Quebec section of the federal Liberal Party.

On March 15, 2003, 250,000 Montrealers responded to the call from the "Echec a la Guerre" (Block the War) Collective. They marched through downtown crying out their opposition to the Washington's war of aggression against Iraq. Elsewhere in Quebec, a further 40,000 people were mobilized. Many sectors of the Quebec population rejected this war and came out into the streets.

What accounts for the strong anti-war movement in Quebec? In our view, there is a direct relationship between the Quebec nation's struggle for independence and various progressive, pacifist and anti-globalization struggles.

At the same time, the sovereigntist movement is subject to contradictions and opposing strategies, as in the issue of globalization, for example.

Nationalism and Class

Today, Quebec's social movements define themselves around a movement for Quebec independence. Members of the trade-union movement are massively sovereigntist and define themselves as Quebecois and in solidarity with the struggles of the people of the world. By way of contrast, Quebec's bourgeoisie is massively federalist and defines itself as Canadian or French-Canadian, or defends the idea of multiple national identities. But when the question becomes political, their move towards the Canadian state is overwhelming.

National identity is stratified in Quebec. It is the product of national oppression and resistance to this oppression. Since the 1960s, a majority of francophones, and those immigrants who became integrated with the francophone majority, began to identify first and foremost as Quebecois. But national oppression does not only produce opposition and resistance. It also produces disorientation and an identification with the dominant nation. Quebec francophones remain torn between multiple identities: the Canadian, French-Canadian and Quebecois identities. This is even more so since the Canadian bourgeoisie's strategy has not been one of exclusion, but rather one of assimilation of the French-Canadian elite.

The Quebec sovereigntist movement, led by the PQ, is constantly challenged by this contradiction. It is obliged to present itself as the defender of the national aspirations of Quebec if it hopes to retain its leading role in the sovereigntist movement. Yet at the same time, the PQ also seeks to maintain an economic and political partnership with the Canadian state and to be integrated into capitalist North America as part of NAFTA. The essential PQ illusion is that the Quebec nation's struggle for independence can be realized without putting capitalism into question, remaining in the shadow of the state that has assured its oppression and with the support of the United States.

An Alternative Approach

Independence--as in a rupture with the federal state--is not part of the Quebec bourgeoisie's program. …