Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Québec solidaire clarifies its support for independence but new debates lie ahead

Fusion with Option nationale dominates congress proceedings

By Richard Fidler

There were two main tasks on the agenda at the congress of the left party Québec solidaire (QS), meeting in Longueuil December 1-3. One was the adoption of the party’s platform for the next Quebec general election, to be held in October 2018.

The other was ratification of a proposed fusion with Option nationale (ON), a small party originating in a split from the Parti québécois in 2011 after the PQ had put its goal of Quebec independence on the back burner for the foreseeable future. The fusion may add several hundred ON militants to QS’s membership of 18,000.

Following extensive debate, the fusion proposal was adopted by a vote of more than 80% of the 550 QS delegates. At a subsequent ON congress in Quebec City on December 10, the fusion with QS was accepted by 90% of the members who voted. Several dozen more, opposed to the fusion, walked out and did not vote.[1]

However, the QS congress lacked sufficient time to debate and adopt the bulk of the proposed platform, including some of the most important parts. It will be left to the party’s 16-member executive, the national coordinating committee (CCN), to adopt the remaining proposals in the spring of 2018, in consultation with the party’s policy commission which had created the original draft platform.

Homage to Catalonia

The congress debates were informed from the outset by the lessons of Catalonia’s militant mass struggle for independence from the Spanish state. The opening night heard powerful speeches by two leaders of the Catalan left pro-independence party, the Candidatura d’Unitat Popular (CUP), Eulàlià Reguant and Anna Gabriel, the CUP spokeswoman in the now-dissolved Catalan parliament.[2] Their presentations (in French) can be heard and viewed here. Their message of internationalist solidarity with national liberation struggles everywhere was cited by a number of participants in the congress’s subsequent debates.[3]

In a pre-congress interview, QS spokesman Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois said the recent events in Catalonia had “opened up our thinking about the need for a clear and positive approach” to Quebec independence. They reveal, he said, “the profoundly revolutionary nature of the independence process, which entails a rupture with the dominant political system.... Catalonia is

a good reminder that independence cannot be achieved only from above, in the salons of Outremont, with experienced constitutional scholars. The political forces that are going to lead the Quebec people toward independence are going to have to have the potential to generate a powerful social mobilization.[4]

This thinking was reflected in the congress debate on fusion with ON, and in particular in the new centrality of the fight for Quebec independence that fusion entails.

Further clarity on Quebec independence

At its earlier congress in May of this year,[5] Québec solidaire had voted to probe the possibilities for a fusion between QS and Option nationale. In the proposed negotiations between the respective party leaders, it said, QS would “discuss in its authoritative bodies the development of political campaigns on the independence of Quebec and the means by which to accede to it.”

However, no report on these negotiations was issued to the QS membership until early October, when a joint news conference of QS and ON leaders suddenly announced they had signed an “agreement in principle” on a fusion that was to be put to the respective party congresses in December.

The agreement — presented as a “package deal” for adoption without amendment by the party memberships — indicated that Option nationale had taken advantage of the QS leaders’ eagerness for a fusion to drive a hard bargain. I have summarized its key provisions in an appendix to this article, below. Among these provisions:

  • ON is to continue to exist within QS as a “collective” with special rights not allowed to the other half-dozen or so collectives in the party. Under the QS statutes, members promoting specific orientations for the party (for example, secularism, ecosocialism, degrowth, animal rights, etc.) are allowed to organize within the party as a recognized collective, provided they comprise at least 10 members and abide by the party’s “fundamental values.” They are not given representation in leading bodies of the party, however.

Under the agreement, ON will constitute a distinct collective with its own funding and representation in leading bodies, and at least three ON members will be nominated in 2018 as candidates in electoral constituencies deemed “winnable” for QS.

  • ON leader Sol Zanetti will be presented as the leading party spokesman on “issues surrounding the independence of Quebec.”
  • The ON collective will organize a “university” on independence in the spring of 2018, with the right to organize this event each year, provided it is self-financed.
  • The unified party will republish an ON publication, the Livre qui fait dire oui [the “Book that leads to a yes”], although the “sovereign” Quebec it advocates is totally neoliberal in its economic program and conflicts in major respects with the QS program.[6]
  • A party congress after the 2018 election will review the QS program with a view to “aligning it with the ON program” — the program of a party that has always said the independence it proposes is “neither left nor right” in its political content.

As might be expected, the sudden announcement of this ON-QS agreement aroused considerable controversy in the ranks of both parties. Many QS militants, in particular, deplored the fact that they had been given no opportunity to experience dialogue or collaboration with ON as a prelude to a unification of the parties. Instead, some noted, ON had run a candidate against QS in a recent by-election in Quebec City, and (unlike the PQ, which desisted) had even run against Nadeau-Dubois when he was the QS candidate to succeed party leader Françoise David in Gouin riding last spring.

Some members protested their inability to amend the agreement with its 18 different provisions, as well as the party leadership’s insistence that it could be approved by a simple majority of votes at the congress even though it entailed some changes in the party statutes (which require a two-thirds majority for amendment).

A constituent assembly for an independent state

But the substantive criticism, the subject of the most controversy in QS, was the agreement’s inclusion of amendments to the party’s program providing that a Québec solidaire government would act from the outset as the government of an independent Quebec, and its proposed Constituent Assembly would develop a draft constitution of an independent Quebec that would then be submitted to a popular referendum for approval.

Thus the ON-QS agreement alters what has been Québec solidaire’s favoured mechanism for accession to independence. As I have noted in previous articles, since its founding in 2006 the party has insisted that the constitution to be drafted by its proposed Constituent Assembly need not necessarily be the constitution of an independent Quebec, that it could simply be, for example, a proposal for greater provincial autonomy within the Canadian constitutional regime — even though Québec solidaire itself would fight for an independent Quebec within the Assembly.

This ambiguity with respect to the Assembly’s mandate reflected in part a fear that federalist supporters — currently a majority in Quebec — would be disinclined to participate in a project aimed at founding an independent state. It also reflected, I suspect, lingering federalist sympathies among former members of Option citoyenne, the feminist and community-centered organization that was one of the new party’s founding components in 2006. (The other one, the radical-left Union des Forces Progressistes, had always advocated a constituent assembly with a “closed mandate” to found an independent and socialist Quebec.)

However, this ambivalence over the Assembly’s mandate was not universally accepted by QS members. Nadeau Dubois had indicated he disagreed with the open mandate. And only last May, QS representatives in OUI Québec, a coalition of pro-sovereignty parties (PQ, ON, QS and the Bloc québécois) working to develop a common “road map” in the fight for independence, had signed a joint statement with the other parties endorsing the proposal for a Constituent Assembly but specifying that the Assembly must develop the constitution of an independent Quebec.[7] They were then overruled by the QS leadership, who withheld that statement from the QS congress meeting soon afterwards. As the party’s national coordination committee explained in a report to the December congress, the four-party statement “completely contravened the QS program on this sensitive question.”

Thus the ON-QS Agreement in Principle, with its amendments to what the QS program says about the mandate of the Constituent Assembly, represented for some QS members a sea change in a basic part of that program. A typical reaction was that of Jean-Claude Balu, chair of the QS orientations committee. In a vigorous dissent, Balu noted that from the outset of the process of defining its program, QS had made a rigorous distinction between its support of Quebec independence and its conception of a constituent assembly that is a “fully sovereign assembly of citizens open to everyone.”

In our founding principles, we say the national question must belong to the population of Quebec as a whole, including the indigenous peoples and persons of every origin, and not to the political parties.

Moreover, if we really wish to have relations of equals, nation to nation, with the indigenous peoples throughout the constituent process, they must be invited to participate without imposing any conditions whatsoever upon them.

Option nationale, he noted, with its virtually sole emphasis on independence, had manifestly failed to win electoral support. (In fact, ON’s electoral results have barely exceeded 1% of the popular vote.)

To rally a popular majority, Québec solidaire has relied since its founding on its social agenda [projet de société] and, to counter the downturn in support for independence, on a strategy linking its social transformation project to the accession to independence through a popular and sovereign Constituent Assembly.

The QS members negotiating fusion with ON, Balu concluded, should have done a better job in defending the party’s positions.

Most of the debate over the fusion agreement took place publicly, and almost all of the key documents were published in the on-line journal Presse-toi à gauche.[8]

Does independence trump democracy?

Balu accurately expresses the reasoning behind Québec solidaire’s road map to independence, as it has been articulated up to now. However, the argument is notable for its wishful thinking. The fight for an independent Quebec necessarily confronts powerful propertied interests dominant within the existing federal state and civil society. They will bring to bear immense media and material resources to influence and if necessary sabotage the proceedings of a constituent assembly. No matter how democratically appointed, or how democratic its functioning, if it lacks the clear objective of establishing the framework for an independent state the assembly will be immensely vulnerable to such pressures. Yet any result short of the draft constitution of an independent Quebec would simply be of no effect whatsoever. As Québec solidaire has consistently said, the federal regime cannot be reformed to become an adequate framework for the party’s progressive social agenda. Yet the QS ambiguity on the Constituent Assembly mandate has undermined the credibility of the party’s commitment to independence.

In a six-page leaflet distributed to congress delegates, a self-described group of “QS members in favour of the agreement for fusion with ON” addressed the fear of some QS members that the party’s support of independence might trump its commitment to democracy:

What makes the Constituent Assembly radically democratic is precisely that it directly involves the people in the foundation of a new state, given the perspective of independence. But... it must be clear from the beginning that the question of independence will be posed in the [subsequent] referendum [to approve the new constitution]. If there is a lack of clarity during the constituent process, the debates will be confused: are we writing the constitution of a province, of a country, both at once, one or the other separately? That is why we must know clearly where we are heading.

Giving the constituent process direction or a destination does not mean it will be controlled from above, or that the people will not have an opportunity to declare themselves freely on their political future. Quite the contrary, it means leaving it to the people to democratically draft the outline of their proposed country [their project de pays] without having to comply a priori with the narrow constraints of the Canadian regime....

Furthermore, the argument for independence cannot be left to an assembly appointed after the election of a Québec solidaire government. The party must campaign even today around a progressive social program that is clearly the program of a sovereign Quebec with control over all the powers of an independent state. And it must be recognized that the party will come to power only on the strength of a massive social movement from below that challenges the capitalist logic and laws responsible for the social inequality and environmental catastrophe we are now facing — a movement for “another Quebec” that is analogous, but multiplied many times over, to the mass upsurge sparked by the Quebec students who in 2012 mobilized and won broad popular support for free public post-secondary education.

The arguments in support of the Agreement in Principle negotiated by QS and ON leaders had been amply expressed before the congress, so the debate at the congress gave greater exposure to the critics and opponents. However, in the end the delegates voted overwhelmingly to accept the agreement.

Québec solidaire leaned over backwards to accommodate Option nationale’s concerns and it remains to be seen how this will affect the party’s functioning in the near future. Clearly, the integration of those ON members who will now join QS will stimulate some useful internal debate. With the fusion, the former ON has been won to a party that proudly proclaims its progressive goals and program — and does not pretend that Quebec independence is neither right nor left.

Inconclusive debate on the election platform

The congress was unable to achieve its other major objective, the adoption of a platform for the next Quebec election. The platform, for Québec solidaire, is intended to select and highlight particular issues and demands drawn from the lengthy program that the party has hammered out over nearly a decade with a view to their immediate relevance. An initial draft is compiled by the party’s policy committee; it is then submitted to the members for amendment, following which a synthesis comprising the draft and proposed amendments by QS associations and leadership bodies is debated by congress delegates.

This has proved to be a somewhat unwieldly process. This year it resulted in a 130-page document in which the 15 topics addressed are listed alphabetically — from agriculture (Agroalimentaire et ruralité) to local democracy (Vie démocratique et régionale). And although an attempt was made to prioritize certain topics for the less than two days of debate, the proposed order, in the opinion of some delegates, did not assign sufficient importance to some urgent matters of the day.

As it was, the congress managed to get through the first six of the proposed topics, for the most part without major changes in the draft, leaving the remainder (as I noted earlier) for debate and adoption by the party’s national coordinating committee later in 2018. Topics omitted from debate at the congress include economy and taxation, education, environment and energy, justice, health and social services, and strategy for sovereignty — that is, some of the most important questions the party should address in the election campaign, key components of a coherent social agenda.

Furthermore, some of the platform proposals left for later adoption by the party executive omit important parts of the party’s adopted program. A blatant example is in the platform draft on the environment and climate change, which omits the QS program’s target of a 67% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 needed to comply with the COP 21 Paris accords, as well as the party’s opposition to carbon taxes and carbon markets, and its call for free public transit; Québec solidaire has been unique among political parties in Canada in adopting these demanding targets and demands. Incredibly, a 24-page pamphlet circulated at the QS congress by the Réseau écosocialiste[9] likewise omits these demands, as did a pre-congress article by a Réseau leader attempting to prioritize platform proposals from an ecosocialist perspective.[10]

Québec solidaire has made important progress in 2017. But the congress debates point to important challenges the party faces during the year to come, and beyond.

Appendix

Agreement in Principle between Option nationale and Québec solidaire

– a translated summary[11]

Preamble

This fusion should allow all progressive independentists in Quebec to work within a unified party that will spearhead the promotion of Quebec independence. This union takes place therefore on the basis of the program, the founding values (independentism, democracy, ecologism, feminism, pluralism, progressivism, global justice) and the statutes of Québec solidaire, but will preserve the spirit and visibility of the constituent aspects of Option nationale, which is summoned to become a collective in the unified party.

In the current political context, a reconciliation of the independentist and progressive forces is more necessary than ever in order to reunite the conditions for our exit from the Canadian regime and to enable the social agenda that Quebec needs. In view of the history of Quebec society and today’s reality, this unification can be achieved only around a true program for a country, freed of the limits imposed by the Canadian political system. This historic agreement creates a new pole of unification for all those who are resolutely committed to this course.

The unified party will be called Québec solidaire.

Programmatic issues

The QS program on accession to independence is to be amended as proposed in Appendix 1 hereto.

For the party program to fully reflect ON’s contribution, five proposals from the ON program will be included in the electoral platform to be addressed by QS in December 2017.

The congress following the 2018 election will, in addition to adopting the party’s program on “national defense,” as provided by last May’s QS congress, will review the entire program with particular (but not exclusive) attention to aligning it with the ON program.

Political actions

The unified party will continue its participation in OUI-Québec when it resumes its proceedings.

In the 2018 general [Quebec] election, the party spokespersons will support three candidates for nomination from ON, including at least one woman. One of these candidates will be the present leader of ON, who will be supported in contesting one of the 9 ridings considered most favourable by party’s election committee among those not already held by QS.

This arrangement will be implemented by a mediation committee formed of ON and QS members and concerned local associations.

In the 2018 general election, the unified party will present (a) a financial framework for the process of accession to independence, including the establishment of the Constituent Assembly; (b) a financial analysis showing the financial viability of an independent Quebec. And these documents will be developed by consulting economists designated by ON.

Finally, the Canadian colonial regime will be ranked equal in importance with neoliberalism in the unified party’s public communications.

Organizational adjustments

ON will become a collective within QS. Its present funds will be integrated with the party’s but may be used to fund initiatives of the ON collective provided the executive first approves, until the 2018 election.

The ON collective will have two positions on the national coordinating committee (a woman and a man) guaranteed for two years. QS will hire one person designated by the ON collective, who will enjoy the same conditions of employment as other employees of the party.

A committee will be established to advise and accompany ON and QS associations in their fusion process. Local, regional and campus QS associations must be fully functional as associations of the unified party no later than the end of April 2018 to ensure full participation of ON members in deliberations of the unified QS national council to be held next spring.

Every effort will be made to ensure that national commissions, theme commissions and working committees include members of ON who wish to participate.

Promotion of independence

The ON collective will organize a “university” on independence in the spring of 2018. ON funds may be used to finance this event. The ON collective may organize this event each year, inasmuch as it is self-financed.

The unified party will work closely with the ON collective to ensure that party members have available material promoting independence on a permanent basis, including the republication, reprinting and development of the Livre qui fait dire oui [the “Book that leads to a yes”], within the budgetary constraints of the party.

The unified party will feature the current ON leader in its public communications and activities concerning the issues surrounding the independence of Quebec, and in particular in public presentations on the matter.

Appendix 1

The Québec solidaire program concerning accession to independence will be amended as follows. All amendments are underlined or crossed out.

The Québec nation and Canadian federalism

(...)

Amendment 1

Canadian federalism cannot fundamentally be reformed. Quebec cannot possibly obtain all the powers it desires, not to mention those that would be needed for the profound changes proposed by Québec solidaire. A Québec solidaire government will therefore implement the measures provided in its program irrespective of whether or not they are compatible with the Canadian constitutional framework.

(...)

A Constituent Assembly

Amendment 2

A Québec solidaire government will propose, at the earliest opportunity, the adoption of a law on the Constituent Assembly defining its mandate, its composition and its process.

Amendment 3

This law will declare the independence of the Constituent Assembly from the Quebec National Assembly and provide mechanisms to allow and promote the free expression of all tendencies within the Constituent Assembly and in the public debate surrounding the process.

The Constituent Assembly, an affirmation of popular sovereignty, will simultaneously reaffirm the sovereignty peculiar to the indigenous nations. The Quebec National Assembly will invite these nations to join in this democratic exercise by whatever means they decide, including, if this is their wish, granting them a major place in the very framework of the Constituent Assembly.

Existing text

Amended text

Amendment 4

source

Congress

2016-11.04

The mandate of the Constituent Assembly will be to develop a Quebec constitution specifying the values, rights and principles on which our common life is to be based, and defining its status, its institutions, powers, responsibilities and resources that are delegated to them.

The mandate of the Constituent Assembly will be to develop a draft constitution of an independent Quebec, specifying the values, rights and principles on which our common life is to be based, and defining its status, its institutions, powers, responsibilities and resources that are delegated to them.

The Constituent Assembly will be elected by universal suffrage and will be composed of an equal number of women and men. The voting procedure will ensure proportional representation of the tendencies and the various socio-economic walks of life present within Quebec society. In the election of this Constituent Assembly, candidates of all means and origins shall be allowed equitable access to the means of communication. Members of the National Assembly may not be elected to the Constituent Assembly, as participation in it requires that they be available on a full-time basis.

After the election of the Constituent Assembly, it will have the responsibility and the means to conduct an extensive process of participative democracy aimed at consulting the people of Quebec concerning their political and constitutional future as well as the values and political institutions pertaining to it. Pursuant to the results of this process — which shall be publicized and which the Constituent Assembly will be obliged to take into account — the Assembly will develop a draft constitution.

Existing text

Amended text

Amendment 5

source

Congress

2016-11.04

The draft constitution will be submitted to the people through a referendum, which will mark the end of the process.

The draft constitution will be submitted to the people through a referendum, which will mark the end of the process.

In order to ensure its plural and democratic character, and to fight against electoral fraud and outside interference, the government will ensure basic funding and strict surveillance of the campaigns to promote the respective options for and against the draft constitution.

Amendment 6

source

Congress

2009-05.21 (g)

Throughout the Constituent Assembly process, Québec solidaire

will defend its option on the Quebec national question and will promote its ecologist, egalitarian, feminist, democratic, pluralist and pacifist values without however presuming the outcome of the debates.

Throughout the Constituent Assembly process, Québec solidaire, as party, as parliamentary wing, and as government,

will defend its option on the Quebec national question and will promote its ecologist, egalitarian, feminist, democratic, pluralist and pacifist values. without however presuming the outcome of the debates.


[1] “Option nationale et Québec solidaire ne font plus qu’un,” Le Devoir, December 11.

[2] Another scheduled guest speaker, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, leader of France’s new left-wing party, La France Insoumise, had to cancel his appearance but recorded a 15-minute video message to the congress.

[3] A public meeting in Montréal December 4 to hear the two CUP leaders drew more than a capacity crowd, many of them from Quebec’s Catalan community.

[4] “L’indépendance, un processus révolutionnaire,” L’aut’journal, No. 365, GND interviewed by Pierre Dubuc.

[5] See “Québec solidaire: No to an electoral pact with the PQ, Yes to a united front against austerity, for energy transition and for independence,” Life on the Left, May 28, 2017.

[6] For a trenchant critique of the book by a Marxist economist and QS militant, see Marc Bonhomme, “Le livre qui fait dire oui à un Québec concurrentiel sur le marché global.”

[7] For a detailed account, with the text of the four-party statement, see my report on the May congress.

[8] See “Débats autour de la fusion de Québec solidaire et d’Option nationale.”

[9] See Québec solidaire: Au-delà du parlement, se donner le pouvoir de changer la société.

[10] See “En route vers un Québec indépendant, pluriel, solidaire et égalitaire,” by Bernard Rioux, Presse-toi à gauche, November 21, 2017.

[11] The full text is here (in French): https://drive.google.com/file/d/1J0EaXTIuD9IpBAFsdbA74pldO-4QDL--/view

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Quebec, the weak link of the Canadian imperialist state

Reply to an article by Céline Hequet and to a few others

Introduction

André Frappier argues in this article that social protest develops unevenly within the Canadian state, that the Quebec struggle develops in distinct ways and tempos and is necessarily directed against the Canadian state as an obstacle to its social transformation. But, he adds, this in turn underscores the need for Quebec independence supporters to build alliances with workers and progressive popular forces in the Rest of Canada who, even if unconsciously, share an objective interest in fighting the oppressive features of the Canadian state. They should therefore welcome the Quebec fight for national independence as a contribution to their own fight for social change.

André starts by referring to an article in the binational web site Ricochet that dismissed the Quebec independence struggle as retrograde and senseless. Its author, who identifies with the left-wing party Québec solidaire, has the merit, he says, of openly expressing a “current of thinking” that exists in some left circles in Quebec but is seldom voiced.

My translation from the original text published in Presse-toi à gauche.

Richard Fidler

_____________________________

By André Frappier

November 28, 2017

Céline Hequet’s article in Ricochet grappled directly with the issue of independence. Her opinion represents a current of thinking within the left, and within Québec solidaire (QS) as well, although there it is never expressed openly. This current is expressed today around the debate over the fusion between QS and Option nationale (ON); an example is the opposition to the fusion as it is expressed by the St-Henri-Sainte-Anne QS constituency association. This article is addressed to these questions.

Hequet’s article makes no analysis of the Canadian state as a state serving the big Canadian bourgeoisie and the multinational corporations, and omits any consideration of the social forces that will have to mobilize to end that domination.

She argues that the struggle for national liberation now refers only to old memories, at best to a desire to take comfort in what is closest to us, like a commune of cat-lovers. But there is no need to separate to achieve that, she says. She questions the specificity of Quebec identity, associating it with poutine and cretons [greaves or cracklings] or with being vaguely social-democratic in inclination.

She suggests that the sovereignty project rests on conservative foundations and ultimately leads us to conclude that any true spécificité québécoise can only be retrograde, so we should stay in Canada. “That is why wanting to liberate the ‘Quebec people’ is now meaningless.... We don’t know exactly who we want to liberate, or from what.”

Nature of the Canadian state

If we want to take an unblinkered view of this question, we must first define the nature of the Canadian state. This will help us understand the type of oppression that affects the peoples and nations within this state, and accordingly how to organize the response to it. And since the question of independence is central in this debate, we must also define the particular ways in which the Quebec nation differs from the rest of Canada.

The Canadian state exercises the most fundamental functions of any “sovereign” bourgeois state: control over the military, control over monetary policy, a monopoly on representation of Canadian capitalism vis-à-vis other states, control of criminal law, and control over a series of legal and regulatory functions in relation to the economy. It is absolutely clear that the central state is the ultimate instrument of defense of the relations of production against any possible threat to that domination. This domination was built by overcoming the resistance of the indigenous nations and the Métis and through the subordination of the Quebec nation.

National oppression in Quebec

The source of Quebec’s national oppression is Canada’s configuration as a state structurally and politically organized to maintain the domination of the big bourgeoisie and the banking and financial establishment. This has had two important consequences. What could be referred to as a Quebec capitalist class has two components.

First, a small number of individuals completely integrated with the Canadian (and increasingly foreign) transnational corporations. They are simply Francophone members of the Canadian bourgeoisie, such as the Desmarais, the Bombardiers, etc.

As Pierre Beaudet has written:

[translation] “Québec Inc. is in part a branch of Canada Inc. or North America Inc., that is, a bourgeoisie that acts essentially as a subaltern component or relay of Canadian (and/or US) capital.... But Québec Inc. is also a ‘regional’ bourgeoisie with its base in Quebec although aiming to ‘North Americanize’ itself. Québec Inc. is also the upper layer of the State and its numerous apparatuses, including the major enterprises created in Quebec’s Quiet Revolution such as Hydro-Québec, the liquor board (SAQ) and especially the Caisse de dépôt et de placements or the top management of the Desjardins Movement.

“This latter ‘bourgeoisie’ does not own the means of production, as in the private sector. But it plays an important role in the state mechanisms that serve the overall ‘collective’ interests of capitalism, and it shares their values, of course. Nevertheless, this elite is also ambivalent. Parizeau’s project would have given it a central role, but that went nowhere. Thanks to its class position, it does not want a Quebec that would stand out from North American capitalism as a whole, so it does not seek, for example, reforms that would challenge the pillars of the present financialized capitalism.”

The other group is composed of Quebec small and medium sized enterprises representing mainly light industry involved in the production of consumer goods.

So Quebec’s national oppression is not a conjunctural question. The political and ideological requirements of Confederation excluded any constitutional recognition of Quebec’s distinct national character, which is at odds with the cohesion and integrity of the central state apparatus.

This oppression is manifested in a domination that is economic but also political, cultural and ideological. It goes together with campaigns of disinformation, or even the straight out “Quebec bashing” that is the regular agenda of various mass media and political personalities in the Rest of Canada. Corruption, it is alleged, is worse in Quebec, Quebec is more racist, etc.

More recently, the Canada-Europe free trade agreement (CETA) has again demonstrated the priority given by the Canadian state to the economy in the western provinces, to the detriment of Quebec, the protection of Quebec’s cheese industry giving way to the liberalization of western beef exports. It is worth noting in this respect the naiveté of the political leaders of the Bloc Québécois (BQ) and the Parti Québécois (PQ) in their embrace of the very financial parameters underlying the CETA.

In the field of culture, the preservation of our achievements continues to be a constant struggle, as illustrated by the CBC and Radio-Canada decisions to make deep cuts in cultural programming, especially in Quebec, while producing a series of programs on the history of Canada with a distinctly neo-colonial flavour.

Any constitutional change must be accepted by the federal parliament and at least seven provinces representing 50% of Canada’s total population. In fact, this constitution was imposed without the approval of any political formation in Quebec. Moreover, it allows some reforms without the requirement of Quebec consent. For the Canadian state, referendums held in Quebec on its constitutional status are only consultative exercises, without any binding effect on the rest of Canada. The federal Clarity Act provides that the House of Commons could, prior to any negotiation in reaction to a Quebec vote for sovereignty, determine the validity of the referendum question and the level of popular support needed to open such negotiations with Quebec.

The fight for independence

To speak of independence is to reject economic domination and the pillage of our natural resources by foreign multinationals. It is to impose popular control over our natural resources, our workplaces, the sustainability of our economic development and the development of our regions. It is to refuse to submit to the dictates of free trade, which allow development that serves the interests of the most powerful companies, disregarding the needs of the majority of the population. It is to gain full control over all of our economic policies — budgetary, fiscal, commercial, monetary and tariffs.

To speak of independence is also to demand full powers over our political decisions, the political institutions that we want to establish in order to promote the most inclusive and participatory democracy. It is to have full power over our international policy and the principles underlying it.

To speak of independence is also to have full autonomy to legislate concerning the French language without fear of being overruled by the Supreme Court of Canada. It is to have authority over the cultural policies we wish to develop, using essential means of communication to expand access to cultural property and uphold a culture that reflects the desire for a social transformation informed by principles of justice and solidarity.

Independence, thus conceived, implies its reappropriation by the popular left and social movements. It is the opposite of the PQ’s sovereignty-association, which upholds free trade.

The fight for national liberation and the strategy of pan-Canadian alliance against the federal state

Today the national liberation struggle in Quebec poses the whole question of a societal transformation and accordingly relationships with the people of the Rest of Canada. The Quebec people, and the trade-union and popular social forces can find a viable way out only by going beyond the confines of a struggle limited to Quebec, and by building strategic alliances with the First Nations and the working class in the Rest of Canada. The fight for national liberation of the people of Quebec can then be based concretely on social transformation in Quebec but also in the rest of Canada.

This alliance cannot be achieved unless the living forces in the Rest of Canada break with federalism and Canadian nationalism and support Quebec’s right to independence.

The fight for independence is not, therefore, a struggle directed toward the Quebec state alone or confined to Quebec territory, as if it were simply resisting a foreign invasion. It is part of a struggle against the central federal state and, from an objective standpoint, this raises the problem of power at the level of the Canadian state as a whole.

In this regard, it is necessary to consider the challenges facing the working class in the Rest of Canada, but also in Quebec. First and foremost, it is illusory and contrary to the lessons of history to think that we can develop a struggle simultaneously and with the same tempo in both Quebec and the Rest of Canada. The Marxist-Leninist organizations were shattered on this issue in the early 1980s when they denied the specificity of Quebec while promoting the unity of the Canadian working class.

Quebec’s struggle for national liberation is in the first place the expression of a rejection of foreign intervention, including by the Canadian bourgeoisie and its institutions. In this sense, the political vision of a social transformation is not the same in Quebec, and does not proceed along the same roads as those taken by the social and progressive movements in the Rest of Canada.

Furthermore, what is most lacking is not so much the lack of openness of the people or social forces in Quebec toward the Rest of Canada but rather the Canadian nationalist sentiment and chauvinism so often expressed toward Quebec by the political, working-class and popular organizations. This is a decisive obstacle that leads them to ally with their own establishment, which promotes the same feelings against Quebec.

This lack of understanding must be overcome if we are to form fighting social alliances. I have been active all my life in the Canadian trade-union movement, and it is not the need to work together that is lacking, but the lack of understanding, if not the denial, of the distinct reality of Quebec. The Canadian Labour Congress (CLC), the largest Canadian union organization, begins its congresses, even in Montréal, by the singing of the Canadian national anthem. All the speeches are in English and the Francophones, if they want to be understood, have to speak in English. There is an interpretation service but only the Francophones use it; the Anglophones do not, with a few exceptions. And this is only one example among so many others.

Dynamic of struggles

However, Canadian workers envy our capacity for mobilization and the fact that we have managed to build Québec solidaire, a left-wing political alternative of considerable size. But that is precisely because the social and distinct reality of Quebec allows that possibility — as it allowed the spread of the student struggle in 2012 in the biggest mass social movement ever seen in Quebec. A situation that is hard to imagine in the Rest of Canada.

In fact, there are a number of important powers allocated to all the provinces, and not just Quebec, such as education and the administration of health care. But there is no specifically Canadian struggle (exclusive of Quebec), although Quebec social struggles are often uniquely Québécois in their articulation. The major areas of struggle are provincial. At best, we can talk of binational or pan-Canadian struggles, as in the case of the postal workers. The workers and popular movement in the Rest of Canada is fragmented and limited regionally in terms of its perspectives and mobilization.

The only solution is to be found in a perspective of alliance with the living forces of Quebec. But to get there it must comprehend Quebec’s distinct dynamic and support its right to independence. As long as it is continues to support the federal system it will be confined to supporting the institution that serves the big bourgeoisie, to its own detriment. A defeat of the fight for independence of the people of Quebec would also be a defeat for the workers movement in the Rest of Canada.

The political implications of a victory in this struggle are huge. Independence can only be achieved through a broad mobilization for popular control of our institutions and our resources. This struggle can only be led to its conclusion and to victory on the basis of the fight for a new egalitarian society.

Imagine the impact of such a social struggle — a thousand times more intense than the student spring — on the population in the Rest of Canada. But imagine also the reaction of the Canadian establishment, the banks and rating agencies. They are well aware that the struggle of the people of Quebec for their independence is a real danger to their privileges and the institution that maintains them, the Canadian state. From this perspective, the struggle for Quebec independence, for a social transformation, can only encompass the peoples and nations in the Rest of Canada by fueling and inspiring their own dynamics of struggles for social change.

Note: This article includes some passages taken from Révolution permanente, a 1978 publication of the Ligue ouvrière révolutionnaire [Revolutionary Workers League]. It also incorporates some recent contributions by Bernard Rioux.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Catalan elections: Jailed and exiled candidates confront the Spanish state

By Dick Nichols

[First published in Green Left Weekly, Australia’s radical weekly newspaper. Original punctuation and spelling retained.]

Barcelona, December 2, 2017 -- All three competing blocs in the intensely polarised December 21 Catalan election are working feverishly to win in a battle shaped by Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s October 27 sacking of the Catalan government.

The elections were called as part of Rajoy’s intervention in Catalonia under article 155 of the Spanish constitution, in order to suppress moves towards independence. The vote is being held in an extraordinary context: two-thirds of the cabinet of the sacked pro-independence government of President Carles Puigdemont are in jail and the other third are in exile in Brussels. [See December 4 update following this article.]

Along with the two detained leaders of the mass pro-independence organisations the Catalan National Assembly (ANC) and Omnium Cultural, they are facing charges of rebellion, sedition and misappropriation of public funds. Yet most of these jailed figures are candidates for December 21.

The pro-independence bloc for the elections is represented by Together for Catalonia (JxCat, a non-party “ticket of the people” put together by the exiled Puigdemont), the centre-left Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC) of jailed deputy-president Orol Junqueras and the anti-capitalist People’s Unity List (CUP).

It is straining to maintain its narrow seat majority in the 135-seat Catalan parliament.

A central goal is to win an outright majority of votes. This would not only harvest the pro-independence forces a bigger seat majority, it would be a devastating political blow against Rajoy and his backers in the Europe Union.

As Puigdemont said in a November 26 interview with El Nacional: “The absolute priority for us is to defeat the coup d’etat, defeat the 155 gang ... that they clearly lose the elections and as a result clearly commit to accepting the decision of the Catalans.

“If the result is a slap in the face for 155 and that gang, what they have to do is undertake to apply the result, to repeal 155 that very night.”

The unionist bloc (which likes to call itself “constitutionalist”) is represented by the social-democratic Party of Socialists of Catalonia (PSC), the Catalan branch of the ruling People’s Party (PP) and the neoliberal yuppies of Citizens. For them, the holy grail is a seat majority that makes it impossible for the pro-independence camp to return to government, thus enabling a return to “normality”.

However, the three unionist parties differ over what an alternative to a pro-independence administration should be. The PSC, for example, has rejected Citizens’ proposal that they agree to support the unionist party winning the most votes to head an alternative administration.

The last thing the PSC leaders want is to campaign in working-class outer Barcelona hobbled by a prior commitment to backing a PP or Citizens government — especially if that’s what they’re actually prepared to do.

That would be a free kick to the remaining political force seeking to extend its support on December 21: Catalunya en Comu-Podem (CatECP), known as “The Commons”. Its campaign calls for return to a social agenda that “overcomes the dynamic of blocs”.

Its vision to achieve this is a left coalition (CatECP-PSC-ERC) that would repeat the “tripartite” Catalan government of 2003-2010, but in which CatECP, not the PSC, would be the dominant force.

The dream of CatECP is to produce a stronger version on a Catalonia-wide scale of the Barcelona en Comu administration of Barcelona Council, led by mayor Ada Colau.

Mutually excluding vetos

The probability of a stable government emerging from this scenario is low. This is especially the case if the pro-independence bloc, presently the largest, suffers any major loss of support.

This is because of vetos on post-election alliances that are being declared by all parties. This is driven not just by competing positions on the national question, but social ones too.

For example, PSC leader Miquel Iceta announced that his party would not “ally with the parties of the right” (i.e. PP and Citizens) nor with pro-independence parties. That left the PSC with CatECP as its only possible partner. This provoked the former PSC speaker of the European Parliament Josep Borell to comment that “these things should be decided after the vote comes in”.

Borrell’s comment simply invited CatECP to demand watertight guarantees from the PSC that it would not do a deal with Citizens. At the same time, as long as the PSC maintains its veto on alliances with any pro-independence party, CatECP’s plan for a tripartite left-leaning government is unrealisable.

As for CatECP, it has declared that it will not be part of any alliance with JxCat. It portrays the pro-independence alliance as the continuation of the long-ruling and corrupt Democratic Convergence of Catalonia (CDC), which was rebooted last year as the Catalan European Democratic Party (PDECat).

This is despite the fact that almost the only PDECat members on the JxCat ticket are Puigdemont and three detained ministers. The vast majority are “activists for Catalonia”, including some from a left background. PDECat agreed to Puigdemont’s formula for the election campaign, but with much grumbling.

Within the pro-independence camp, the CUP has its own veto — on collaboration with any force pursuing what it calls the “impossible” project of a negotiated referendum with the Spanish state (namely CatECP). This is a warning shot across the bows of JxCat and ERC not to abandon the project of the Catalan Republic, which was offically declared on October 27 on the basis of the October 1 referendum.

Underlying reality

The situation is likely to remain gridlocked unless one of two things happen: a clear repetition of the level of support for the pro-independence camp (preferably with more than 50% of the vote) or a sharp rise in the unionist vote (requiring record participation) combined with stagnation in support for pro-independence forces.

A third scenario — of a huge rise in support for the two parties defining themselves as “left” and “social” (CatECP and PSC) — would require hundreds of thousands of Catalans to become defeatist about the struggle for national rights. Yet while the events of October and revelations of the lack of preparation of the Puigdemont government have demoralised some, they have also enraged and hardened others.

These are are just two of the multiple reactions that the volatile Catalan political situation is producing. This makes it hard to detect anything like a predominant mood. It also makes it hard for most parties to know how best to pitch their message.

It is also a reflection of an underlying reality: that the movement for independence in its component parts — mass associations, pro-independence local councils, Committees for the Defence of the Republic (CDRs) and Puigdemont government — has never really managed to associate the independence cause with an improvement that can be felt in the lives of hundreds of thousands of working Catalans (especially from a non-Catalan background). This is important as they need to be convinced that independence would mean a better life for them and their families.

This was not for lack of understanding of the importance of this task, nor of propaganda about the gains that could come with independence.

It was partly due to the needed shift to fighting for a referendum (after a period of assuming that the election of a pro-independence government in itself meant majority support for independence). This shift meant that the discussions on “what sort of Catalonia do we want” had to be sidelined.

It was partly, even largely, due to the adoption of an 18-month timetable to complete the “process” for Catalonia to achieve self-determination. This turned meeting legislative and organisational deadlines into a priority at the expense of being sensitive about how people were reacting to it.

It was certainly due to the Spanish Constitutional Court overruling nearly every piece of progressive Catalan legislation that, if implemented, would have improved the lives of those doing it hardest. This includes a guaranteed citizen’s income and a law to prevent cutting off electricity to households too poor to pay their energy bills.

It was not especially due to resistance from the more conservative elements in the Puigdemont government, or even to ongoing austerity policy. Growth rates above 3% since 2014 have allowed funding of social spending, while still inadequate, to start recovering from the economic crisis.

Whatever the most important influence, the result is today’s very unsettled scenario. According to the latest Metroscopia poll (November 27), 20% of people are still to make up their mind about how they should vote.

All wings of the Spanish establishment — from the Rajoy government, to the Spanish and Catalan big business umbrella organisations, to sections of the Catholic Church — are equating a vote for Catalan independence with populism, economic ruin and sin. In this context, finding the message that will convince undecided voters is not simple.

This is the case across the independence-unionist divide and also within each side.

Independence bloc debate

The three tickets within the independence camp share the basic position that the October 1 referendum, with all its difficulties, was legitimate, as was the October 27 declaration of independence. All three state that the task of an incoming pro-independence government is to return to these foundations and “build the Republic”.

But how is that to be done when the Catalan government is completely controlled from Madrid? Any newly elected pro-independence government will be warned that it, too, faces an article 155 intervention if it steps out of line.

The CUP sees these challenges as being met by the mobilisation and self-organisation of the people. In a November 30 interview with the daily Ara, CUP candidate in Barcelona Vidal Aragones said: “The people are mature enough to decide what they want. If we build majorities, the intervention of the State isn't possible.”

Asked what the CUP would do “if ERC and JxCat do not implement the Republic”, Aragones said: “We haven’t come into the institutions to take part in a Spanish regional administration. If ERC and JxCat violate their commitments, we will adopt measures that put on pressure to make the Republic effective.”

The main tool for building the republic and putting pressure on the other independence parties that the CUP sees is the network of CDRs that has sprung up across Catalonia.

JxCat has not so far engaged publicly with the CUP viewpoint: the priority for Puigdemont’s ticket is recovery of the Catalan institutions and an end to the article 155 intervention, including the oversight of Catalan finances from Madrid.

The unspoken implication is that this recovery isn’t achieved, plans for unfolding the republic will become a distant dream in the absence of a state controlled by a pro-independence government.

Winning the election is therefore the most important task, because it will make it impossible for the Spanish government to continue ignoring and slighting Catalan claims.

In Puigdemont’s words: “What is indisputable is that if there is a sufficient pro-independence majority, Catalonia will have sent a colossal message to the world, which is that, despite everything, despite Europe’s green light to Rajoy to do what he wants and despite having open slather[1] to solve what he thinks is a problem, he will have been defeated...

“If with detainees, people in exile, violence, the coup d’etat of 155, 10,000 police, financial persecution, media warfare, economic warfare, we nonethess win, Mr Rajoy will have to give many explanations to Europe.”

For the ERC, its general-secretary Marta Rovira says developing the republic “depends on how overwhelming the democratic mandate received is”.

The ERC and JxCat have been having a muffled debate on what form of government Catalonia should have in the case of a pro-independence victory on December 21. The ERC has floated a number of trial balloons, including an “executive government” in Barcelona to complement the “legitimate government” in exile in Brussels.

Puigdemont’s response was that any number of such formulae could be viable, but “I would like to hear from all candidates, especially those of the article 155 gang, that if the people of Catalonia want there to be a pro-independence majority in parliament and this majority wants to invest as president a person who’s outside the country, that they commit to this person being able to take up the position”.

The ERC has also floated the idea of a broad pro-sovereignty government, running from JxCat to CatECP. The CUP has ruled this out, however, on grounds it cannot govern with a force (CatECP) that does not recognise October 1 as a binding referendum.

Unionists

On the unionist side, the division of labour is much less complicated. PP leader Xavier Garcia does the Andrew Bolt-style thuggery,[2] including baseless attacks on the Catalan education system and public media.

Of Channel TV3, he said: “I would close it down and reopen it with normal people.” He has also taken out a suit against Catalunya Radio, claiming to be defamed in its morning program.

Citizens leader and leader of the opposition Ines Arrimadas does a “leader in waiting” act, based on trite nonsense about wanting to “govern for all Catalans, including supporters of independence”. Her most venomous barbs are directed not so much at the pro-independence bloc as at the PSC and its leader Iceta, for having done deals with PDECat and the ERC to run various councils.

The PSC is also suspect for not ruling out an alliance with CatECP, seen as little better than the independence bloc for its support for a Catalan right to decide.

Meanwhile the PSC, which has lost councils, mayors and councilors because of its support for 155, is engaged in a shameless hunt for votes from Catalonia’s richest who have abandoned PDECat because of its obsession with independence.

An acidic article in the November 28 NacioDigital, titled “The bourgeoisie breaks its own taboo and starts to feel socialist”, stated: “One of the forums where the contest between unionist candidates is lived out is in the elitist Equestrian Club. [PSC leader] Miquel Iceta was the first candidate invited to its pre-election colloquia, an indicator to be kept in mind.

“Those present observed a lot of empathy between Iceta and the Equestrian Club board.”

Constitutional Court

On November 30, Unidos Podemos, the alliance between Podemos and the United Left in the Spanish parliament, announced that it would appeal the Spanish government’s article 155 intervention to the Constitutional Court.

This was a potentially fruitful move. This is not because there is any chance of the Constitutional Court finding in favour of Unidos Podemos, but because it provides an opportunity to publicise the Rajoy government’s arbitrary use of an article that was never envisaged to allow Madrid to sack a regional government — as many jurists have pointed out.

It will also do no harm to CatECP, which will use the appeal to dramatise that it is the only Catalan party with allies in the Spanish state supportive of Catalonia’s right to self-determination.

All progressives will be hoping that between them, the CUP, CatECP, ERC and JxCat win a broad enough majority, humiliating the “Gang of 155” and opening the door to recovering Catalan self-rule and deepening the crisis of the Spanish state.

[Dick Nichols is Green Left Weekly’s European correspondent, based in Barcelona. He is running a daily live blog on Catalonia’s struggle to decide its future.]

_____________________

Update, December 4 — Supreme Court judge Pablo Llarena today ordered the release of six of the ten Catalan political prisoners on bail of €100,000 each, while keeping the other four — vice-president Oriol Junqueras, interior minister Joaquim Forn, ANC president Jordi Sànchez and Omnium Cultural president Jordi Cuixart — in detention.

The released ministers are foreign minister Raül Romeva, welfare minister Dolors Bassa, minister of administration Meritxell Borràs, infrastructure and transport minister Josep Rull, minister of state Jordi Turull, and attorney-general Carles Mundó.

A Belgian judge will decide December 14 on extradition of Carles Puigdemont and four ministers in exile.


[1] Australian and New Zealand colloquialism, meaning “freedom to operate without interference, a free-for-all.” (Oxford English Dictionary).

[2] Andrew Bolt is an aggressively right-wing media columnist in Australia.

Friday, November 17, 2017

National struggle and class struggle: complementary or contradictory?

Parallels between Catalonia/Spain and Quebec/Canada

Introduction

A major item on the agenda of the upcoming convention of Québec solidaire (QS), to be held in the Montréal suburb of Longueuil December 1-3, will be a proposal for fusion with another pro-independence party, Option nationale (ON). This will entail revisiting the relationship between the parties’ support for Quebec independence (basically the entire program of ON) and Québec solidaire’s attempt to link the national question with its social justice program.

The current struggle for national self-determination in Catalonia quite naturally suggests parallels with the issues posed in the Quebec pro-sovereignty movement. In recent weeks, two leaders of Québec solidaire — Manon Massé, a party spokeswoman and member of Quebec’s National Assembly, and André Frappier, a member of the QS National Coordinating Committee — have visited Catalonia as invited guests of the Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP), a left pro-independence party that is now contesting the December 21 Catalan election.

In the following article, which I have translated from Presse-toi à gauche, André returns to a topic he has frequently addressed in recent months as a coordinator of a pan-Canadian network of left social movement activists that is now beginning to develop. An earlier article by him was published here on October 5.

André’s article is followed by a statement of the newly-formed Quebec coalition of solidarity with Catalonia, which includes major nationalist organizations, trade unions and political parties. Its first public meeting will be held tomorrow, November 18, in Montréal. See its web site for particulars, at www.solidarite.cat.

– Richard Fidler

* * *

National struggle and class struggle: complementary or contradictory?

Parallels between Catalonia/Spain and Quebec/Canada

By André Frappier

The political situation in Quebec and internationally, with the escalation of the Catalan national struggle, impels us to deepen our thinking on these issues. What role can Quebec’s national liberation struggle play in class terms, in the context of the fight for emancipation of the peoples in the Canadian state? The following is an attempt to address these questions.

For more than forty years the national question in Quebec has been dominated by the Parti québécois. But it was not the PQ that invented nationalism, that was the product of the domination that has existed since the British Conquest and which was structurally integrated at the time of the Canadian confederation.

Nationalism is not, by definition, necessarily progressive. That depends on the political situation and the role nationalism is summoned to play as a vehicle for transformation toward an egalitarian society. Historically, in Quebec, national oppression has always been a source of social mobilization against capitalist domination, which appears beneath the face of a foreign domination.

This domination has been introduced in various ways — in the cultural, media, educational systems as well as at the economic and social levels. For many years now, American and Canadian culture have inundated our television screens. Quite recently, the CBC produced a purportedly historical narrative of Canada’s history that in no way reflected the historical roots of Quebec or of the indigenous nations. And for many years, as Yvon Deschamps used to say, you worked in English or were unemployed in French — which is still the situation in many areas of activity today.

It was this feeling of excess that the PQ built on in its origins. The nationalization of electricity resources previously controlled by various private interests, initiated by René Lévesque under Jean Lesage’s Liberal government, showed the way and prompted a major economic take-off, boosting national pride.

This “Quiet Revolution” completed by René Lévesque’s PQ soon came up against some antisocial economic choices with the rise of the recessionary period at the turn of the 1980s. The national liberation struggle was never able to develop its full potential, therefore. In the years that followed, the PQ built itself as a party of neoliberal state administration with the consequences that entailed in terms of disillusionment and the stifling of mobilizations if not direct confrontation as in 1983 during the public sector negotiations.

The sovereigntist perspective was dimmed both by the neoliberal policies implemented by the PQ when it was in office and by the identitarian nationalism that has come to replace the strategic impasse which the party had reached and which ultimately became the gravedigger of what it had once been. Herein lies the necessary distinction between the deviation of the PQ’s nationalism and the scope of the struggle for sovereignty in terms of social change, not only in Quebec but in the Canadian state.

In Catalonia, where the political struggle is now much more intense than it is in Quebec, the fight for a popular reappropriation of society is crucial. The issue of fiscal independence emphasized by the middle classes arouses no sympathy among the popular classes in the rest of the Spanish state or in a significant part of Catalonia as well, in particular the popular sectors in the working-class neighborhoods of Barcelona.

The Catalan independentist movement, and more precisely the left, will have to take this into account, especially because Rajoy accuses Catalonia of benefiting from economic resources more ample than the Spanish average and claims that the Catalan population wants to keep its wealth for itself, depriving the rest of Spain. The Spanish working class is in this way pressed to support those who are applying the rules of austerity against it and to fight against its objective ally in Catalonia.

The struggle of the Catalan people must therefore find a way to link their fight for national liberation to a perspective of struggle against the austerity imposed on the entire Spanish state by the government in Madrid, as the movement of the indignados did a few years ago.

The dynamic of struggles is not linear. The fight for social change and the overthrow of the old state does not begin everywhere at the same time, and develops more intensely within nations oppressed by the central state. It is essential that the Spanish working class likewise find the way to supporting the struggle of the Catalan people against the oppressor state headed by Mariano Rajoy. This is in its own interests. A defeat of the Catalan struggle would be a major victory not only for the right-wing government in Madrid; it would also ensure some stability to the European Union in its domination of the working class throughout Europe, which could continue to enrich itself through increasingly drastic austerity measures as it did with the Greek population two years ago.

So also in Quebec. The fight for control of our national fate, our resources, our environment and our industry cannot be successful without challenging the control by the ruling classes. That inevitably means looking beyond Quebec’s borders and calling on the working people in the rest of Canada to support our fight for social justice against the equally inevitable intervention of the Canadian state and its financial institutions, which will apply the same medicine as the World Bank did to Greece or Madrid and the European Union is doing to Catalonia. Didn’t Trudeau say that there was only one united Spain?

November 14, 2017

* * *

Quebec solidarity with Catalonia

Media release, November 9, 2017

In the wake of events in Catalonia, especially since the Declaration of Independence of the region by the Catalan Parliament, several major organisations of civil society and four political parties in Quebec have agreed to come together to form a broad coalition of citizen solidarity and cross-partisan support for Catalonia.

The Coalition supports the Catalan population and the Carles Puigdemont government, which was democratically elected in 2015. It calls on Spain to respect democracy and condemns the continuing wrongful proceedings against the Catalan leaders, as well as any recourse to violence. In addition, the Coalition intends to support the efforts of the Catalan government to have the new Catalan Republic recognised.

International solidarity
When we see the inertia of the international community, the intransigence, use of force and violation of the civil and political rights practiced by the Spanish government with regard to Catalonia, it is imperative that Québécois who support the principle of democracy speak out in solidarity with the Catalan people and government who have fought peacefully and democratically for their right to self-determination.

The objective of the Coalition established today is to ensure that these rights are respected by the Spanish State and also recognised by the international community, starting with the governments of Quebec and Canada.

Broad public meeting on November 18th
As a first activity, the partners in the Coalition have agreed to organise a big public meeting on Saturday, November 18 to take stock of the situation in Catalonia, and to show Quebec's support to the Catalan people. It is intended that a Declaration of Quebec Solidarity with Catalonia be announced, along with with artistic performances and an open discussion period. The details of this gathering will be announced soon.

Call for broadening of the Coalition
In order to broaden the reach of the message and make the action of the Coalition even more powerful and effective, an appeal is made to all groups, civil society organisations and political parties that respect the right of the Catalan people to choose their future to express their interest by email via the address coalition@solidarite.cat.

Full details of the activities and actions undertaken by the Coalition will be available on the website www.solidarite.cat.

The following organisations have, to date, agreed to join the Coalition (in alphabetical order):

CIVIL SOCIETY

    Cercle culturel catalan du Québec
    Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN)
    Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec (FTQ)
    Mouvement national des Québécoises et Québécois (MNQ)
    Organisations unies pour l’indépendance (OUI Québec)
    Réseau Cap sur l’indépendance (RCI)
    Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste (SSJB)

POLITICAL PARTIES

    Bloc québécois
    Option nationale
    Parti québécois
    Québec solidaire

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Catalonia: Democratic revolution or authoritarian state

Catalonia -una-imatge-de-la-manifestacio-daquest-11n-al-carrer-marina

November 11, 2017 demonstration in Barcelona demanding release of Catalan political prisoners.

Introduction

The Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP) is a left pro-independence party in Catalonia that has emerged in recent years and developed around an anticapitalist program. With ten seats in the now-deposed Catalan parliament, it gave critical support to the Puigdemont government, ensuring a pro-independence majority, but was not a member of the government as such. For background information on the CUP, see:

The radical party behind the Catalan referendum, https://newint.org/features/web-exclusive/2017/09/29/the-cup

The far-left separatists who took Catalonia to the brink, http://tinyurl.com/yb9tjbg8

On November 12 a CUP general assembly voted by 64% in favour of presenting a slate in its own name in the December 21 Catalan elections called by the Spanish government, to be held under the occupation regime Madrid has installed after jailing Catalan government ministers and leaders of the mass pro-independence civic organizations. The CUP will also support parties in the Constituent Call, as in the 2015 elections.

In the following article a leader of the CUP explains its view of the central issues in the election campaign, outlines the history and origins of the rising pro-independence movement in Catalonia in recent years, and critically analyzes the positions on the Catalan national question taken by Podemos and other left forces in the Spanish state as well as by the major pro-sovereignty parties in Catalonia.

Òscar Simón Bueno is a member of the national secretariat of the CUP and an acting professor. This article was published on November 7 on Viento Sur. Footnotes and bracketed explanatory notes in the text are taken from the French translation published in À l’Encontre. My translation from the Spanish text.

– Richard Fidler

* * *

Behind the events in Catalonia, the question of power, alliances and self-organization of the people

By Óscar Simón Bueno

November 7, 2017

The struggle for self-determination in Catalonia, carried by an authentically popular movement, has highlighted a number of features of the situation, especially since the unilateral referendum of October 1:

  • The highly reactionary nature of monarchical Spanish nationalism.
  • The inability of Spanish republicanism (with few exceptions) to generate a critical political stance capable of mobilizing broad masses of the population and detaching them from rightist influence.
  • The need for any movement of democratic rupture to seriously confront the question of power.
  • The unity of the bourgeoisie as a class in defense of the status quo.

These issues, without exception, can be resolved only in the process of the democratic revolution.

The pact that assigned the Spanish state its function as an instrument of class domination is weakening as a result of globalization

The Spanish state has been the political form of capitalist economic exploitation since the 19th century. Through this pact the constituent bourgeoisies maintained their domination and obtained some economic advantages. Territorial specialization, with peripheral zones that serve as reservoirs of migrant labour and raw materials, coexisted with central territories like Madrid, Barcelona or Bilbao which held the administrative, industrial and financial power.

The configuration of this pact permitted exploitation under the regime of state territorial monopoly.

Despite some dysfunctioning, in particular owing to the preponderance of each of the bourgeoisies in the management of the state apparatus, the pact was maintained under Franco and during the three long decades that followed the dictatorship. It is only with the development of neoliberal globalization that the distribution of roles became outmoded, especially in regard to the Catalan industrial power which, owing to the free circulation of commodities, no longer enjoys its prerogative within the Spanish state.

Faced with this process, the various bourgeoisies within the state understand that in a globalized world the management of infrastructures is essential in order to attract investment and transform a given space into a pole of capitalist accumulation. The contest to manage airports, rail transportation and highway investment, like the battle for control of the strategic sectors, was clearly taking place during the first decade of this century. The expansion of airports like the Prat [Barcelona], Barajas [Madrid] or others built without a plane taking off; the harbour construction bubble or the takeover bid on Endesa [the electricity and natural gas company in which the Italian firm Enel holds a large majority of shares] launched by Gas Natural [its head office is (or was) in Barcelona], aborted to cries of “rather Italian than Catalan,” are illustrative.

The idea of developing a new statute for Catalonia [between 2003 and 2006] was an attempt to update the pact and — beyond the powers it comprised and the fact that the word “nation” appeared in its preamble — its central aspect was the investments in infrastructures in Catalonia, the amount of which was included in a provision of the 2006 Statute. As it happens, that statute has not been implemented by the state during most of the years following its coming into force. [A provision of the Statute specified that “the investment in infrastructures of the State in Catalonia, with the exception of the interterritorial compensation fund, will amount to the relative share of Catalonia’s GDP in the GDP of the Spanish state for a period of seven years.”]

The collection of signatures against the statute initiated by the PP [People’s Party, the governing party in Madrid] generated anti-Catalan feeling but also provoked a contrary effect in Catalonia: a growth of what the former President of the Generalitat José Montilla [between 2006 and 2010, a member of the PSC, the Party of Socialists of Catalonia] called “disaffection toward the Spanish state.”

The economic crisis and the harsh antisocial policies initiated by the Zapatero government (April 2004-December 2011] and deepened by the PP have also put an end to the mirage of political alternance at the level of the central state. The fact that the PSOE (Zapatero’s party, social-democratic) appears as a force implementing budget cutbacks has had serious consequences throughout the state and particularly in Catalonia where the image of the PSC, its Catalan counterpart, was clearly damaged and marked the beginning of a decline that continues today [one of the expressions of this decline was that several small formations separated from the Party of Socialists of Catalonia to join the Junts pel Si coalition]. That is, the political forces that govern the state found themselves without a party with the capacity to win elections in Catalonia.

Preparation of the 2009 referendum at Arenys de Munt

It was in this context that the movement promoting referendums for independence began in Arenys de Munt in 2009, and it soon extended throughout Catalonia. [By the spring of 2011, hundreds of popular consultations had been held in Catalan communes; more than 800,000 people had voted, and the state had already initiated legal proceedings against these referendums.] This, combined with the 15M movement [the anti-austerity mass occupations of city squares that began on May 15, 2011] helped to increase popular consciousness of the need for “self-government” in all of its implications, including the national question. But the emergence of the idea of self-determination and defense of independence from a state that oppresses and exploits had first to confront the attempts of the defunct CiU [a conservative coalition that governed Catalonia between 1980 and 2003, and between 2010 and 2015] to redirect the popular demands toward reaching a fiscal agreement with the state.

This goal of a redivision of the tax system between the two levels of government was intended to achieve the same status that the Basque bourgeoisie had obtained through the Concierto Económico [a series of agreements between the central state administration and the Basque autonomous community that govern tax issues between the two with broad autonomy for the latter]. However, the popular mobilization, especially after September 11, 2012, ended that attempt.

The social mobilization for improved living conditions converged with the idea of a break with the Spanish state, making independence an alternative for millions of people.

As a result the CiU — Convergence and Union, the coalition that had managed to participate in the governance of the state[1] while posing as the guarantor of Catalan demands — could see how the popular movement for independence was preventing it from playing both of these roles simultaneously.

The Spanish state no longer united the bourgeois or right-wing parties; it entered into a profound crisis. Not by the will of the party leaderships, but because the society in Catalonia had changed and the only possibility of governing for the CiU, which was now falling apart, was to commit to following in the wake of the newly independentist Catalan voters who were evolving toward positions further to the left. In this sense, the basic idea of “first independence, then we’ll see” was to win the votes that had moved from autonomism to independentism while preventing the compelling proposals of the Catalan social left from becoming a permanent part of the independence movement.

The clearest consequence of this break between the bourgeoisies in Catalonia and the Spanish state was this: if the state was to maintain its primacy it would have to inflict a decisive defeat on the Catalan movement, and be especially harsh with the Catalan Right in order to win the support of those business interests that had previously used the CiU as the political vehicle for their economic ambitions. It was indispensable to defeat and humiliate the representatives of the small and middle bourgeoisie — who even today support the process — in order to relaunch the Pacto de Estado, the state agreement, by which this bourgeoisie would agree to a centralist administration of the infrastructures that are indispensable to globalization. The multinational corporations, financial interests headquartered in Catalonia, and a large section of the employer organizations positioned themselves in opposition to the Catalan Republic. In other words, Spanish monarchical nationalism could count on the support of almost all of the big bourgeoisie.

Spanish republicanism, the inability of Podemos and the IU to confront the reaction

Throughout the economic crisis and the process of neoliberal structural adjustment, the left in the Spanish state was unable to recognize or understand that the fight against neoliberalism in Catalonia was associated, for huge numbers of people, with the struggle for national liberation, both because of the existence of a national conflict and because of the neoliberal ferocity of the PP. The latter did not hesitate for one moment to cut back the gains obtained by social struggles in Catalonia, as in the case of the Emergency Housing Law.[2] This does not mean that the independence movement is anticapitalist, but that for many people independence is associated with the idea of ​​a less unfair and unequal society.

Podemos and IU (Izquierda Unida), for whatever reasons, have been unable to place at the heart of the state political crisis the idea of ​​the Republic as a mechanism to break with the 1978 regime. Their idea of ​​social patriotism has failed, until now, because it did not manage to place it on a material basis from which to fight in the streets and in the workplace against the Spanish right wing or, to use the terms of their populist analysis, because it has not found the signifier needed to build the chain of equivalence that gives birth to a people. Why the leadership of Podemos and Izquierda Unida have chosen to this point not to place the demand for a republic, federal or confederal, at the heart of it all, and why instead they evoke an incomprehensible plurinational state, only they know. It is however evident that this indefiniteness has brought them neither improved electoral prospects nor greater strength in the street nor even a discursive capacity to confront, until now, the Spanish unity around the institution of the monarchy.

The misunderstanding of the role played by the struggle for liberation of the oppressed nations has tended to confuse unity of the working population with unity under a state flag, a position which reflects the same error that led the parties of the Second International to support the First World War. The main enemy of the popular classes of the Spanish state and the working class in particular is the political, economic and social system that allows their domination and exploitation. The task of any force hoping to contribute to the social liberation of the working and popular classes must therefore take advantage of any opportunity to weaken that state. This means, in the here and now, to support, and not to question, the self-determination of Catalonia, not on the basis of a demand that goes against a negotiated referendum on self-determination but rather on the basis of unconditional but critical support to the Catalan movement. With two objectives: (1) to strengthen the position of the left in Catalonia, so that the process places the needs of the popular classes at the center, and (2) to undermine the foundations of Spanish monarchical nationalism, which is one of the fundamental tools that the Right uses to mislead large popular layers.

The positioning of the lefts has led them to view the Catalan conflict from afar and, in Catalonia, to be unable (with the exception of the layer close to Albano Dante [the leader of Podem who has just resigned due to the brutal pressure of the Iglesias leadership] and the Anticapitalistas) to position themselves alongside the popular movement that is conducive to rupture. Had they done so, 78% of the Catalan parliament would have been in favor of the referendum and the left would have been able to act together in the streets and in the workplaces. No one can say what the result would have been, but it is clear that the Republic proclaimed by the Parliament on October 27 would have been much stronger.

The democratic revolution

At this point, it is important to think about how to move forward in this situation. In Catalonia, this means opposing Article 155, which translates, in practice, into promoting the Republic and developing the constituent power.

We have seen how the employers’ organizations, in their majority, have chosen to position themselves on the side of Spanish monarchical nationalism; the banks have done likewise along with the multinationals that were headquartered in Catalonia. This positioning means that only the popular classes and the working class can be looked to as powerful allies of the Republic. And there is the additional problem that the defense of the aforementioned Republic is a matter of indifference to a large part of the working population, because the social agenda of the process has been minimal.

On the current battlefield, there is the political power at the state level, in which the bloc of the PP, PSOE and Ciudadanos is the political expression of Spanish monarchical nationalism. Added to this are the judiciary, the police, the army, the big bourgeoisie and their communications media. On their side we also find the far right. The latter is a minority, but it swims like a fish in the waters of the defense of the sacrosanct unity of Spain.

In the Catalan republican camp we have the sovereigntist entities, the political parties that voted for the Republic in the parliament and the Committees for Defense of the Republic as well as a part of the trade-union left. In the rest of the state, the Catalan republic is supported by the forces of the abertzale left [the Basque “patriotic” left], the sovereigntist forces in Galicia as well as the trade union left in general, especially the left that participates in the Marches for Dignity and, more broadly, in Euskal Herria [Basque Country] and Galicia where there are strong sovereigntist unions. The main political referent for the social left, Unidos Podemos, opposes Article 155 but considers the Catalan Republic illegal. Thus — with the honorable exception of Albano Dante, Marina Albiol (IU) and the Anticapitalistas current — its political action is reduced, for now, to mere rhetoric since it is not even able to call for rallies to support the right to decide.

One of the priorities is to reverse this situation, so that the left which — just two years ago — called for a break with the 1978 regime and the overthrow of the casta, can return to this path or build a new one, a referent that can resist the great pressure of Spanish monarchical nationalism.

Without a mobilization in the rest of the Spanish state the fight for the Catalan Republic will be much more difficult. If, on the issue of Catalonia, Spanish monarchical nationalism manages to win, the defeat of the PP, Ciudadanos and the PSOE will become more remote.

The impetus for the Catalan Republic entails as well the need to confront the question of the power of the Spanish state in Catalonia, which is incorporated in the army, the police and its monopoly on collection of the principal tax revenues.

The Catalan government in recent years has dealt with this question through the idea of ​​creating parallel state structures as well as through the passage from one law to another [“legal transition”]. The reality is that this approach has failed to give the Republic sufficient strength. The parties running in the December 21 elections on the independence and sovereigntist ticket will have to come up with answers on how to approach this issue.

Since it is clear that we need to find another way, some will talk about a highly improbable negotiated referendum. Once the path of the Herrero de Miñón type[3] has been ruled out, the only way left for a referendum on self-determination in Catalonia, based on the rights of historical nationalities, is through a constitutional reform that can only be achieved with a three-quarters majority vote in the Congress of Deputies, followed by the convening of elections, and then ratification. This chain of events is possible, but highly improbable, to say the least, as long as Unidos Podemos does not clearly decide to oppose Spanish monarchical nationalism in defense of the Republic and self-determination, a position that would be more understandable than an abstract plurinationalism, and one which would offer a real alternative to the millions of people who are being plundered under the leadership of the elites.

In Catalonia, it is necessary to build a social program associated with the establishment of the Republic, so that the working class and the popular classes, with their methods of struggle and the position they occupy in the system, can be transformed into a counter-power able to promote the Republic. The idea “first the Republic, then we will see” will prevent us from achieving the social strength necessary to overcome the powers of the State. We must, in addition, build a horizon of struggle that is shared with the other peoples in the state.

If the various left forces are able to recover the idea of ​​the “Federation of Iberian republics,” adapted to the situation today, or of republics united on an equal footing on the basis of the independence of each of them, we will be able to smash one of the best tools available to the elites to dominate us, namely Spanish monarchical nationalism.

In the end, it is not superfluous to recall that the working class is united not by state flags but by the struggle against the common enemy: capitalism.

On the other hand there is the question of how to accumulate sufficient power to break with Spanish monarchical nationalism and its system of political domination. That is, how to develop the mechanisms to implement the program that we were talking about earlier. In Catalonia, this involves an exploration and deepening of the collaboration between the CDRs (the Committees to Defend the Republic), the organized working class and the sovereigntist forces present during the strike of October 3 and which probably will expand during the November 8 general strike [this was not the case].

The CDRs have a central role. They are now the mobilizing organs of the base [this November 8, they blocked dozens of roads, highways and railway lines throughout Catalonia]. Moreover, the coordination among the hundreds of existing committees is progressing at the general and regional level. Their composition is diverse and plural, the dynamic is based on assemblies, and they are rooted in localities and neighborhoods, which enables them to be areas for struggle as well as debate. Therefore, they will always be more fundamental in giving an impetus to the republic and in establishing a constituent process.


[1] That is, when the PSOE or PP governments did not have a majority. In 1996, CiU reached an agreement along these lines with the PP, the Catalan section of which supported the government coalition in the Catalan parliament between 1999 and 2003.

[2] At the end of October this year the Constitutional Tribunal, on a motion by the Spanish government, suspended the Catalan law to protect the right to housing of persons facing eviction, popularly know as the “Housing Emergency Law.” This law had been adopted by the Parliament in December 2016. It established a mediation agency and allowed the temporary use of empty houses foreclosed by banks or owned by major housing landlords. A supplementary provision aimed to establish a “social rent” that would cover persons in debt or about to be evicted. However, it was rejected by Junt pel Si.

[3] Miguel Herrero de Miñon is a former member of the PP (he resigned from that party in 2004), a specialist in public law and one of the so-called “Fathers of the 1978 Constitution.” He is against opening a constituent process, arguing that Spain needs stability and social progress, and says that legislation can evolve without amending the Constitution by resorting to “infraconstitutional” laws. For example, he says it is possible to amend the Elections Act, like other acts, without amending the Constitution. If the Constitution, he says, were to recognize the “personality of Catalonia, the independentists would opt for a new Status.” See the long interview he gave in January 2017 to the on-line site elespanol.com.