Friday, October 13, 2017

As Trudeau visits their country, Mexicans denounce Canadian mega-mining projects

Mexican Network of Mining Affected People Tries to Extract a Response from Trudeau

As Prime Minister Trudeau makes his first official visit to Mexico, writes Mining Watch Canada, “the Mexican Network of Mining Affected People (REMA by its initials in Spanish) has issued a communiqué to call on Trudeau to live up to his commitments and stop the devastation of Indigenous and campesino communities that has enabled Canadian mining companies to make big profits.

“Canadian investment in Mexico — the principal destination abroad for Canadian mining investment after the U.S. — is expanding precisely in the most deadly places for anyone to get by on a daily basis, let alone speak out in defence of their land and wellbeing. As the future of the North American Free Trade Agreement is uncertain and Trudeau seeks to shore up a bilateral relationship with Mexico, it’s time to put words into action and answer for lives and livelihoods destroyed or at risk around Canadian mine sites.”

The text of the original communiqué follows. Translation by Mining Watch Canada. Like Mining Watch, I have omitted the footnotes indicated in square brackets in the text. These can be found in the original text.

Richard Fidler

Mexican indigenous at mining project

Canadian mining is dispossessing Indigenous peoples and campesino communities in Mexico

On the occasion of Justin Trudeau’s state visit to Mexico, the Mexican Network of Mining Affected People urges Canadian mining company invasion of Mexico to stop and withdraw

October 11, 2017

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has presented himself on the international stage as a democrat, a supporter of human rights and freedoms, and committed to fulfilling the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.[1] Although on this latter point it is important to mention that the government has taken a weak position, limiting its support for the declaration within the scope of the Canadian constitution, [1] which is not minor, particularly if Canada continues to refuse to ratify Convention 169 of the International Labour Organization[2] and fails to respect the self-determination of Indigenous peoples in practice.

Trudeau’s visit to our country has been announced as an opportunity to strengthen commercial ties between Mexico and Canada, which is bad news for those peoples and communities who have been seriously affected by Canadian mining activities. Today, Canada has become the biggest source of foreign investment in mining around the world and in Mexico, to such an extent that 65% of foreign mining companies in Mexico are listed in Canada. For Canada, Mexico has become the second most important destination for Canadian mining investment abroad, after the U.S., such that 11.3% of Canadian mining assets are in Mexico.

The power that Canadian mining wields in Latin America has been openly and arbitrarily promoted by Canada’s entire diplomatic corp along the lines of its “economic diplomacy” policy through its embassies. Like good colonialists, they continue to propagate racism and hatred toward Indigenous peoples and campesino communities when they encourage mining investment in an area such as Guerrero [2] — where there is tremendous Canadian mining investment — and then issue alerts to Canadian tourists to avoid traveling to the same place, [3] given the violence and risks that people live with there.

The political and financial weight of Canadian mining companies and the government is a reality that has been used to influence the promotion of constitutional reforms, laws and regulations in the extractive sector to help facilitate foreign investment, as well as to weaken and deny redress for harms, tax payments, or any other condition that might affect company profits.

In Mexico, this has led to an unconstitutional legal framework that violates human rights because, among other things, it gives mining priority above all over activities, which despite being undertaken pretty much exclusively by private companies is also considered in the public interest. This has meant dispossession and forced displacement of legitimate landowners, who when they try to defend their rights, these are denied by the very same companies or through the structures of illegal armed groups or in collusion with diverse actors in the Mexican government.

Health harms, environmental contamination and destruction, criminalization of social protest, threats, harassment, smear campaigns, surveillance, arbitrary detentions and the assassination of defenders are the formula for progress and development that Canadian mining investment has brought to our country. To counteract its brutality, in the media and among the spheres of power, companies gloat about their corporate social responsibility, clean industry certification or safe cyanide use, or their adherence to absurd standards of “conflict free gold” that are supported and certified by organizations largely created by the very same corporate sector.

To substantiate claims of dispossession, pillage, displacement and violence caused by Canadian mining companies, it is enough to visit the communities of Carrizalillo [4] and Nuevo Balsas [5] in Guerrero, Chalchihuites [6] and Mazapil [7] in Zacatecas, the northern highlands of Puebla, [8] Tetlama in Morelos, [9] or Sierrita de Galeana in Durango, [10] as well as Chicomuselo, Chiapas, [11] where Mariano Abarca was murdered for his opposition to a Canadian mining company, prior to which the Canadian embassy in Mexico was alerted to the risks he faced as they monitored the conflict.

The abuses of Canadian mining companies have been ongoing, repeated, and have violated human rights such as rights to territory, property, a safe environment, participation, consultation and consent, lawfulness and legal security. For example, we have seen the same company (Goldcorp) break the law repeatedly by purchasing collectively owned lands, first in Carrizalillo, Guerrero and then, three years later, in Mazapil, Zacatecas. Today in Mexico, Canadian companies are operating 65% or over 850 mining projects at different stages from exploration through to construction and extraction.

It is important to mention, Mr. Justin Trudeau, that the only thing that mining investment from your country has ensured for us is dispossession and the risk that thousands and thousands of communities and persons could lose their culture and identity as a result of destruction of their territory; the arrival of organized crime (whether or not companies are signed up to the bombastic conflict-free gold standard); as well as the escalation of violence, repression and criminalization of those who defend their territories and life.

In this context, REMA calls on the Canadian government to stop institutional and political support provided through your diplomatic apparatus to enable private Canadian companies to accumulate profits through dispossession. We also demand that you stop promoting policies and weak laws that legalize the activities of these mining companies, among them voluntary codes of conduct known as Corporate Social Responsibility, in place of mandatory compliance. Instead, corporate accountability is urgently needed to put a stop to the ongoing atrocities and illegalities that violate the human rights of Indigenous peoples and campesino communities.

In addition, beyond the positive accounts of the business sectors and government officials in defence of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), it is important to mention that this pact has only helped to legalize dispossession, enabling more wealth to be accumulated by already wealthy sectors, as well as the gradual displacement of both products and local economies to stimulate a new form of accumulation and control, an increase in the deregulation of land ownership and dilution of protections over the public interest and public good, further enabling private pillage. In sum, the principal objective of NAFTA has been to disappear the countryside and campesino farmers.

Finally, Mr. Trudeau, we would like to remind you that well over a year ago, on April 26, 2016, various organizations including ours sent you a letter [12] in which we requested you to kindly bring your attention to the context of human rights violations of Canadian companies in Mexico and Latin America, just shortly after you had assumed your mandate as Prime Minister when you committed yourself and your party to support human rights. To date, we have never received a response to this letter, nor seen any concrete actions to better protect human rights.

Canadian mining investment is destroying our country

Canadian mining companies violate human rights

We will fight for territories free of mining!

Mexican Network of Mining Affected People (REMA)

Postscript: Canada’s role in promoting and defending its mining activities in Mexico, in violation of indigenous interests and rights, has not gone unnoticed in that country’s media. See, for example, this article in the Mexican daily La Jornada, October 13: “Justin Trudeau en México: frivolidad y decepción.”

The author concludes: “Sadly, after two years in power Justin Trudeau maintains a complicit inaction regarding the death and destruction provoked by Canadian mining companies, consistently aided in this plunder by the help they receive from a legion of corrupt specialists in the sale of our biocultural patrimony. Faced with this, the road to follow has been traced by many peoples in Mexico who have organized to declare their territories free of megaprojects of death, including mega-mining. We should expect nothing from Justin Trudeau other than huge disappointment.” (R.F.)

[1] See in particular Articles 10, 28 and 32, which require the “free, prior and informed consent” of the indigenous peoples concerned by projects impinging on their lands, territories and resources. The Supreme Court of Canada has ignored this requirement in some recent rulings.

[2] Also known as the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, 1989.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

The fight for independence in Catalonia: What lessons for Quebec?

Catalonia photo - grandchildren of grandparents

‘We are the grandchildren of the grandparents you bashed' October 3 demonstration outside the Spanish National Police headquarters in Barcelona


Following the October 1 referendum in Catalonia — held in the face of massive repression resulting in hundreds of injured — the people shut down production and massed in cities and towns across the autonomous state on October 3 to protest the Spanish government’s attempt to deny them the elementary democratic right to vote on their constitutional and political future.

The political crisis is continuing to deepen. The Spanish Constitutional Court, at the request of the Catalan social-democratic party, has ordered the suspension of the Catalan parliament scheduled for October 9 to implement the result of the referendum, which under the Catalan legislation would be a declaration of independence. In response, the Catalan National Assembly has called for the “biggest possible mobilization” outside the Catalan parliament on October 9.

Some leaders of the independence movement have been charged by the federal court with “sedition,” as has the head of the Catalan police (the Mossos d’Esquadra) who is accused of “passivity” in the face of a September 20 demonstration.

The events in Catalonia have naturally attracted much interest in Quebec, and some dozens of Québécois have made their way to Barcelona and environs in recent days. They include leaders of the pro-sovereignty parties in Quebec, among them Manon Massé, a spokesperson for the left independentist party Québec solidaire.

In an exceptional gesture, the Quebec National Assembly voted unanimously (113 to 0) on October 4 to “deplore the authoritarian attitude of the Spanish government, which has led to acts of violence during the referendum on the independence of Catalonia,” adding that it “deplores the number of injured.” The Assembly called for “political and democratic dialogue between Catalonia and Spain in order to resolve peacefully and in a consensual way the differences that separate them, in respect of democracy and law, and with international mediation if the parties so consent, to lead the parties to a negotiated solution.”

The motion was presented by Parti québécois leader Jean-François Lisée on behalf of Premier Philippe Couillard and the other party leaders, including Manon Massé of QS, who had just returned from Barcelona. The resolution was a clear departure from the refusal of Couillard up to then (and even today by the Trudeau government) to criticize the Spanish government for its handling of the Catalonian crisis.

The motion, along with considerable critical commentary in the media, is no doubt just the beginning of public discussion in Quebec over what the events in Catalonia mean for Quebec, and especially the independence movement.

The following is an initial contribution by André Frappier, an editor of Presse-toi à gauche and Canadian Dimension. A former president of the Montréal postal workers union (CUPW), he is also a member of the National Coordination Committee of Québec solidaire, although he writes here in a personal capacity. André informs me that he will be in Catalonia during the next week to observe firsthand the important events. I have translated this from Presse-toi à gauche.

Richard Fidler

Rajoy, el gran saductor

Rajoy, the Great Seducer: 'Don't go, Catalans! Where are you going to be better off than with us? We love you!'

* * *

The struggle for independence in Catalonia: What lessons for Quebec?

By André Frappier

October 3, 2017

The struggle of the Catalan people for their right to self-determination and ultimately for their independence is certainly not commensurate with the struggles Quebec has experienced in its recent past, if we consider the history of the 1980 and 1995 referendums. Spain’s history and constitution, its Francoist legacy, in a context of a European Union that is managing the anti-popular austerity offensive, tend to give a form overtly more inflexible to the Spanish government’s reaction in opposition to the Catalan nation. But while that struggle is unfolding in a different context, it is important to examine the situation and to draw some lessons for the struggle that we are carrying on in Quebec.

Revisiting the past: differences and similarities with Catalonia

In the 1995 referendum, the Canadian government chose to bet on its defeat and had allied with the NO forces in Quebec, as it had done in 1980. In doing so, however, it did grant some validity to Quebec’s referendum exercise, which represented a certain risk. As it happened, the NO obtained only 50.58% of the votes in 1995, a significant decline in comparison with the 1980 referendum when it had obtained 59.56%.

The Liberal government headed by Jean Chrétien had spared nothing, however. This battle had to be won at any cost. So it breached the funding rules imposed by Quebec legislation on the contending sides by diverting no less than $332 million from Canadian government coffers toward some Quebec advertising agencies — what became known as the sponsorship scandal. Not to mention the organization of the love-in of the federalists who came to demonstrate their “love for Quebec.” The cost of that demonstration was assessed at close to $4.3 million, it too contravening Quebec’s referendum law which limited the respective camps to spending $5 million to promote their ideas during the campaign. Among the thousands of persons who besieged downtown Montréal there were New Brunswickers arriving in buses chartered by Irving Oil, students coming from Vancouver thanks to a 90% discount of Air Canada, and employees of the municipality of Ottawa-Carleton who had been given a paid day off.

The Liberal government therefore had to draw some lessons from this risqué adventure in which it had lost a lot of credibility and the Yes side had lost by very little. In 1997 Stéphane Dion was given the mandate by the Chrétien government to take over this question and to determine the action to be taken should another referendum end up winning. He went first to the Supreme Court and then tabled a bill on referendum Clarity that was adopted in June 2000.

This new law states in its “whereases” that the Supreme Court of Canada has held that neither the Quebec National Assembly nor the government of Quebec has the right , either in international law or under the Constitution of Canada, to proceed unilaterally to the secession of Quebec from Canada.

This law decrees that the people of Quebec do not have the right to take the decision to separate on their own. The Quebec government would have the duty to negotiate. But even then only if the federal government recognized the validity of the vote. The terms of negotiation, and the conditions in which it would be exercised, are therefore established by the federal government, which becomes judge and party.

That considerably altered the situation and strengthened the federal state, which has now armed itself with safeguards against independence. As the Gomery commission demonstrated, the chances were already unequal when confronted by cheaters. And we now know that the fight for sovereignty will necessitate a large and favourable relationship of forces. In that respect, we already share somewhat the Catalan situation.

Finally, let us remember that the Canadian constitution, repatriated [from Britain] in 1982, has never received the necessary consensus since Quebec has never accepted it.

Will the Canadian state confront Quebec independence in a way that differs from that of the Spanish state today?

This is by no means certain. Geographically, Quebec is not located at the periphery of the Canadian state. Quebec’s secession would cut Canada in two, isolating the Maritime provinces from Ontario and the western provinces. It would also constitute an enclave in regard to Seaway transportation, which must pass through Quebec on its way inland and outbound. Quebec would now be entitled to decide what can cross its territory, and if it wishes to prohibit any form of pipeline. It would also have full control over rail and highway transportation.

That is enough to represent a major threat, especially for a state that runs on the extraction and export of petroleum, with Quebec as a decisive route. But would the people of a Quebec that has become independent choose that avenue? Judging by the sustained mobilization in the different regions of Quebec for protection of our environment, including the some 230 municipalities that support the struggle in Ristigouche and have adopted similar protective by-laws, and given the awareness of the need for an energy transition toward sustainable sources it is almost unthinkable that a struggle for Quebec sovereignty would not entail a struggle over the appropriation and control of our environment. What is the use of independence if it not to free ourselves as well from our dependency on the multinational corporations?

Impact of mobilization

The other aspect is political. Independence, it is clear, cannot be achieved in a cold way. It will be the culmination of a struggle that is both social and parliamentary, the construction of a relationship of force to flush out the profiteers and the corrupt who hoard our collective resources and monopolize the profits. It will be the culmination of building a force that can accomplish our sovereign choice of society through the constituent assembly. The working class in the rest of Canada will be able to see in this a hope that will revitalize its own struggles, provided that it escapes the subjection to its own bourgeoisie and therefore Canadian nationalism.

And that is the other major threat for the Canadian federal state. The possibility of a truncated state, with a Quebec in ferment, will of course represent a much more dangerous situation for the Canadian ruling class. The support of the working class in the rest of Canada will then be a decisive element, as it now is in Spain for the Catalan people.

[Thanks to Dick Nichols, Barcelona correspondent of Green Left Weekly, for photo and cartoon. Dick is reporting daily on the events.]

Monday, October 2, 2017

Catalonia: After YES victory unions, social movements call general strike

In face of massive police repression, majority vote to found an independent republic

Voters form barrier to prevent police entry to polling station. Photo by La Vanguardia.

Despite brutal attacks from police of Madrid’s Guardia Civil, millions of Catalans defied a ban by Spain’s central government and its courts and made their way to polling stations — many improvised in schools, arenas, hospitals and other public facilities — to vote in the October 1 independence referendum. Some 90% of the 2.2 million who managed to circumvent police barriers answered “yes” to the question “Do you want Catalonia to become an independent state in the form of a republic?” Only 7.87% voted No, while blank and null votes accounted for the remainder.

It was an impressive result in the circumstances. Although only 43% of the total electorate of 5.2 million were able or willing to vote, another 777,000 voters were blocked by police from casting ballots; about 400 polling stations out of 2300 had been shut down. It thus appears that a clear majority, on a clear question, voted or wanted to vote for independence.

Announcing the result, Catalan government president Carles Puigdemont pledged to declare an independent republic within 48 hours after the official vote count is released, later this week, in accordance with the referendum law adopted September 6 by Catalonia’s national assembly.

Meanwhile, a broad coalition of trade unions and political and social movements has called a “general and social strike” for Tuesday, October 3, against repression and in defense of freedom.[1] Their statement denounces “the repression and infringement of rights and civil, sexual and political freedoms, both individual and collective, that is being generated in Catalonia in the form of a veiled state of exception.” It goes on to denounce “the pressures and threats that the whole of the working and popular classes have suffered in these recent weeks as well as the constant attacks on freedom of speech and the continuous attempts to frighten the whole of the Catalan population.

“We want to make clear that in the face of the austerity policies that have destabilized our lives in recent years and have dismantled the public sector with a bank rescue plan, there is a need for us to organize and to advocate a charter of social rights that incorporates all of the experiences, practices and knowledges accumulated by the different social movements during all those years, from the social and solidarity economy to the movement for food sovereignty, from the defense of the territory to the feminist struggles and in opposition to male violence against women, from the movements for peace to the recognition of the rights of migrants.”

Published below is a perceptive explanation of how the referendum can detonate an institutional crisis across the Spanish state as a whole, while drawing attention to some lessons that mutatis mutandis are applicable to Québec solidaire and the left in Canada in relation to our national question. The author is a Barcelona-based author and activist on the editorial board of Viento Sur, where this article was first published. It was translated by Todd Chretien for

– Richard Fidler

* * *

Decisive days in Catalonia

By Josep María Antentas

1. After five years of eternal process in which the grandiloquence of the key actors was proportional to the extraordinary sluggishness of events and the parties’ consistent desire to avoid a decisive clash with the Spanish state, we have finally arrived at the moment of truth. It’s not the final scene of the film, but it is a critical passage in determining the ending.

“The process ends, now the Mambo [1] begins,” as the far-left, pro-independence Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP) succinctly summarized the changing situation. A mambo, don’t forget, might have started back in in 2014 if the Catalan government of Artur Mas of the ruling Democratic Convergence of Catalonia [now known as the Catalan European Democratic Party, PDeCAT] had not retreated in November of that year when it abandoned the attempt to conduct an independence referendum (a “consultation” in the language of the time) after it was prohibited by the Spanish Constitutional Court. A mistake that, surprisingly enough, met with hardly any resistance on the part of the other actors in the process (with the initial exception of the Republican Left of Catalonia, ERC), none of whom drew up a public balance sheet nor explained the reasons behind the ongoing rodeo over the last three years.

2. The Catalan parliament’s September 6 approval of the Referendum Act marked a point of no return. Since then, officially speaking, Catalonia has entered into a situation of double legitimacy — a duality of legitimacies (and legalities) on a collision course that, naturally, can only exist temporarily until it is settled in favor of one or the other. The scenario presents an asymmetric, unstable and unequal institutional double power (that is, the power of Spanish state institutions and those of the Catalan state, which have placed themselves outside of their own legality).

It’s important to keep in mind just how “asymmetric, unstable, and unequal” this relation is to accurately understand the conjuncture and to avoid the mistake of seeing this as a confrontation between equivalent or similar powers. There is, in fact, a tremendous inequality between the two. “Between equal rights force decides,” as Marx wrote in chapter VIII of the first volume of Capital when talking about the fight over the length of the workday between workers and employers.

Forgetting this factor can lead to naïve or illusory visions about the nature of the State — not about the Spanish state specifically, but also about the modern capitalist state in general. At the same time, we must remember that “force” cannot be separated from the legitimacy of the power that uses it, nor from the political context in which it operates. Legitimacy and context determine the degree to which said power can deploy force. And neither of these are fixed variables, rather they change along with events. Brute force and political force, therefore, in the broadest sense of the terms, permanently intermingle.

3. Any movement must be able to assess the world and changing situations in terms that are favorable to its interests while communicating confidence in its capacity to win as well as the belief that its objectives are attainable. In the independence movement’s narrative, the term “disconnection” has been used regularly in order to visualize the unilateral materialization of independence. The concept carries a pleasantly agreeable tone, free from stridency and tensions, softening any feeling of conflict or insecurity. In this sense, it has definitely played an important role in making the independence movement’s strategic horizon appear credible. But it has come at the cost of enormously simplifying the complexity of the project’s analysis and of how confronting the state is understood.

The idea of disconnection brings to mind the painless turning off of an electric circuit. There is a well-known scene in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: a Space Odyssey that clearly illustrates how to disconnect (oneself) from a superior power. This takes place in the part of the film “Mission to Jupiter,” when the Discovery approaches the great gaseous planet. After checking for anomalies in the HAL 9000, the supercomputer in control of the ship, astronauts Dave Bowman and Frank Poole plan to disconnect from it. After Poole dies as a result of HAL’s action, Bowman gains access to the room where HAL’s central circuits are locked up, gradually deactivating the computer, leading it to gradually lose consciousness. The machine regresses to infancy and ends up, before shutting down, singing a children’s song “Daisy Bell.” The great Leviathan who controlled the ship, a humanized super-computer, dies. [2]

Contrary to this image, in reality, it is not possible to disconnect from a state. Neither is it possible to break with a state without a confrontation. Thus, paradoxically, the idea of disconnection, although very different, recalls Antonio Negri’s theory of the exodus that has been in vogue over the two previous decades. In this case, not advocating an exodus in the sense of creating liberated non-state spaces, but rather in the sense of creating another state.

However, no such agreeable disconnection from a state exists against its will. Leaving cases involving a military clash aside, there are examples of ruptures with states that come as a result of intense tug-of-wars and mass political-social confrontations that, intermingled with international geopolitics, may force a state to accept a democratic denouement of a contest contrary to its interests. But all this has very little to do with the strategic imaginary with which the independence movement has been played out up until now.

Hence, the capital importance of what happens in the coming days. The most important thing is for the Catalan government and its allies to continue forward until the last breath. And, crucially, popular mobilizations must push their way onto the scene, nourished by a torrent of ordinary people.

4. The movement for independence has been defined by its imposing mass size and staying power. Since 2012, under the direction of the Catalan National Assembly (ANC), each September 11 — Catalonia’s traditional nationalist day — has expressed this support through methodically planned demonstrations, even if these are typically followed by very little movement street presence until that date on the following year. Behind every S11, there is real organization from below, in each town and neighborhood, although absolutely dependent on the political leadership of the ANC itself (and to a lesser extent the Òmnium, a Barcelona-based Catalan cultural association).

Over the last five years, the movement has demonstrated very little spontaneous capacity from below or the ability to overflow its own leading organizations, negatively impacting the movement at various junctures. The absence of any pressure beyond that officially directed by the ANC in the weeks prior to the N9 consultation in 2014 — either to prevent the Spanish state’s actions or the Catalan government’s retreat — is the clearest example.

The events of September 20, when ordinary people flooded into the streets in the face of the sudden intensification of Spanish state repression, mark a drastic change of pace and logic. The movement has taken on a relatively sharper, vital, and electrifying dynamic, more focused on sustained mobilization. A new phase has begun in sync with an intelligent, strategic emphasis on nonviolence that has characterized it from the beginning.

The ANC and Òmnium are playing a leading role in what has taken place over the last week, but their style is more conducive to a contained mobilization rather than popular actions from below spilling over from below and this approach may continue to impact the movement at critical instants. The great challenge over the next days is as follows: exactly how to combine the leadership of these two organizations — which no one questions — with the need for the explosive spontaneity characteristic of the M15 movement.

We cannot yet assess the scope of the response that started on September 20. Clearly, it has changed the tone of the political environment. But it still may tend toward stabilization, or be the initiator of general outbreak prior to October 1, or on the day of the referendum itself, if the Spanish State pursues further repressive actions.

5. At this key conjuncture, the basic limits of the whole independence process are clearly emerging; that is, the delinking of the proposal for a Catalan state from a concrete plan for social mobilization and democratic regeneration. In other words, the disassociation with the legacy, the meaning and the agenda of the anti-austerity Indignados movement that erupted on May 15, 2011 (M15) when millions occupied city and town squares across the territory of the Spanish state.

Both movements have galvanized and represent distinct parts of the Catalan people. The people of the squares in 2011 are not the same as the people of the independence process, even if there are important crossovers that we must not forget. To do so would be to read reality too mechanically. In Catalonia, part of the middle classes and the precarious youth gravitated towards M15 and toward the political options that were born from it (Podem, the Catalan expression of the Podemos party and the radical Catalunya en Comù party, neither of which have consistently advocated independence, even if they supported Catalonia’s right to self-determination). Another part moved more sharply toward the independence movement (in its diverse variants). And there are, no doubt, others that are swinging between both poles, providing a weak connection between the bifurcated futures enshrined in the independence movement and the legacy of M15.

However, M15, beyond both the precarious student/youth component and the critical role of the middle classes buffeted by the economic crisis, also contained a mass, neighborhood component, featuring popular and working-class participation during an epoch when the trade union movement as such was decomposing. These last features are, critically, absent in the independence movement and represent its Achilles’ heel.

Thus, the movement suffers from the lack of an anchoring social sector both quantitatively and qualitatively, both numerically and strategically. And, it goes without saying, it has been the main source of controversies and headaches for each member of the Catalan left, whether or not they define themselves in such terms, and whether or not they are participating in the independence process or stand outside it. We must not minimize this problem nor pretend that it does not exist, as the left wing of the independence forces have tended to do. Nor should it be used as a pretext to remain outside this new movement that emerged in 2012 and thereby end up making its weaknesses worse, as Catalunya en Comú and those it influences have done.

In this sense, various initiatives carried out by sectors of the trade union movement, in conjunction with social justice activists, are particularly important, including: the Barcelona dockworkers’ decision to refuse to service ships carrying Guardia Civil deployed from other parts of the Spanish state and the announcement of a call for an October 3 general strike (however propagandistic it may be) by several smaller unions.

6. Born formally in March 2012, the Catalan National Assembly (ANC) provided a strategic road map toward independence based on the construction of a transversal and plural movement articulated exclusively around the goal of independence. This pure and simple independence had an undeniable attractive power, although it was in itself a key strategic limit for the new movement, both from the point of view of its stated objective (independence) and from the point of view of opening doors to social and democratic change (an objective formally shared by many of the movement’s members).

Retrospectively, without falling into the nostalgia of what could have been but was not to be, it is enough to ask ourselves how things might have turned out if the movement had paired the slogan of independence in 2012 with a program of social mobilization and basic democratic regeneration. The answer is clear: the Catalan right and Artur Mas’ government would have felt even more uncomfortable with the independence tsunami, yet they still could not have detached themselves from it while independence process advocates would have expanded their base by attracting popular and working class supporters. If this path had been taken, traditional leftist political organizations (as well as new ones that arose after 2014) and the unions would have faced difficulties remaining indifferent. [3]

Obsessively preoccupied with not alienating the Catalan right, independence movement organizers did not pay enough attention to the strategic necessity of ensuring participation by forces on the political and social movement left that were not already in favor of independence. This criticism notwithstanding, rather than using the limits of the dynamics opened in 2012 as a justification for a passive policy, it was more strategically sound to engage with these limits as a stimulus to actively interact with it while working to reduce the right’s influence within the movement.

Furthermore, such a passive wait-and-see policy neglected another decisive question: the moment of intensification of the confrontation between the State and independence forces, such as the one we are living through today. This clash represents a key conjuncture in which we must try to shift the correlation of forces to the left, we must fight in such a way that the most combative sectors become protagonists in a scenario in where the forces of order within the independence movement lose out to those that favor a rupture, with the anti-capitalist Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP) at the head.

7. Two things are at stake on O-1: the exercise of the legitimate right to self-determination of the Catalan people and the future of the 1978 post-Franco regime. We face two battles in one, which interact and feed off their own autonomy. They cannot simply be dissolved into each other or merged, but neither can they be completely separated in strategic terms.

This is where the interests of the independence movement and political forces throughout the Spanish state (and their Catalan allies) that favor a constitutional rupture with the regime of 1978 can partially converge. Since 2012, Catalan independence has not given sufficient importance to the search for allies across the whole Spanish state, but increasing repression has acted to change this attitude, even if it has been too-long delayed.

Genuine instances of solidarity from outside Catalonia are highly regarded and appreciated, although their strategic potential has been acknowledged too late and is still not well-integrated into the movement’s overall policy. On the other hand, state-wide initiatives such as the ones Unidos Podemos and Catalunya en Comú are promoting — such as the meeting of public officials last Sunday, September 23 in Zaragoza — have the merit of clearly denouncing repression and the de facto Spanish state coup d’état playing out in Catalonia.

Such initiatives’ insistence on coming to an agreement with the state on how to hold a referendum serves to defend the legitimacy of the right to self-determination. But the proposal, unfortunately, is devoid of all strategic potential because it is disconnected from active support for 1-O. Thus, it fails to address the present crisis in the name of an uncertain proposal for the future while projecting an ambiguous and hesitant message at a critical moment, as if what happens today will have no repercussions for tomorrow.

The escalating repression has accentuated the connection between the Catalan independence process and the crisis of the Spanish regime. The democratic question, if the State continues in its authoritarian logic, may be the lever to transform Spanish public opinion. This would facilitate political solidarity with Catalonia by political and social forces across the Spanish state and pose the potential for a strategic understanding of Catalan events’ potential for provoking a constituent rupture(s) with the framework of 1978. But the democratic question, if it is to unfold in all its depth, implies that political and social forces in the Spanish state must correctly comprehend the Catalan national question.

8. The intensification of repressive measures and growing political tensions once again shows the weakness of the position adopted by Podemos and Catalunya en Comù with respect to O-1. They each support it as a legitimate mobilization but do not recognize it as a referendum because it lacks the necessary formal guarantees. Yet it makes no sense to embark on an a priori debate about whether O-1 lacks such guarantees or not. In fact, this will only be determined on October 1 when we see if the referendum is carried out, or if it is suppressed or withdrawn.

The decisive question is to understand, as unfortunately neither Podemos nor Catalonya en Comù do, the need to go all out to try. We must do so whether one believes it will be possible to hold the referendum against the will of the state, or if one believes that — under these conditions — all that is possible is a protest mobilization. The Catalan government and its political and social allies’ commitment to try to carry out O-1 is what is important, it is that commitment that has triggered the current political crisis. And it O-1 supporters’ determination which is intensifying it.

To declare in advance that the O-1 is a mere mobilization (as both Podemos and Catalunya en Comù have done), to refuse to go all-in, only deactivates the movement’s potential as a precipitating element in what might become a decisive political and institutional crisis. Such timidity with respect to O-1 not only exposes doubts about the independence project, but also a diminishing of Unidos Podemos and Catalunya en Comù’s profiles as constituent forces pushing for a rupture with the status quo. [4]

So we face decisive days ahead. These September days have shaken Catalan and Spanish society and will, no doubt, be followed by still more intense ones come October.

September 29, 2017

1. A Cuban dance.
2. This scene is available at YouTube.
3. For more on the arguments, see: Josep Maria Antentas, “Tribulaciones y atolladeros del proceso independentista,” Público, March 2, 2017.
4. For more on Catalunya en Comù, see: Josep Maria Antentas, “Los Comunes y sus dilemas,” September 11, 2017.

Further reading:

Aljazeera, “Catalonia independence referendum: All you need to know.

Dick Nichols, “Catalonia referendum: the insurrection against the Spanish state is reaching a decisive climax.

Dick Nichols, “Catalonia Referendum: Resisting the Spanish Government Siege.”

[1] They include, in addition to the workers’ commissions (CCOO) and the UGT, the Popular Unity Candidacy (the radical pro-independence party), Òmnium cultural, the Catalan National Assembly (ANC), the Catalan Association of Public Universities (ACUP), the National Council of Youth of Catalonia, the Confederation Neighborhood Associations of Catalonia (CONFAVC), the Federation of Assemblies of Fathers and Mothers of Catalonia (FAPAC), and the Union of Sports Federations, among others.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

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

Québécois national movement mobilizes for democracy while Trudeau government is silent

Catalans demonstrate on their national day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Richard Fidler

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

Le Devoir, September 21, 2017

(Signatories listed at conclusion)

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

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

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

To express our solidarity

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

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

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

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

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


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

Jason Brochu-Valcourt, vice-président des OUI Québec

Serge Cadieux, secrétaire général de la FTQ

Claudette Carbonneau, présidente des OUI Québec

Véronique De Sève, vice-présidente de la CSN

Martine Desjardins, Mouvement national des Québécoises et Québécois

Robert Laplante, directeur de L’Action nationale

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

Gabrielle Lemieux, présidente du Parti québécois

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

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

Martine Ouellet, chef du Bloc québécois et députée de Vachon

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

Sol Zanetti, chef d’Option nationale

Suggested further reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Quebec independence a key to building the left in Canada


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

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

The conference program introduced the topic as follows:

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shifts in leadership of national struggle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what about convergence?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Food for thought.

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 31, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joe Emersberger, Trump Is Not the Venezuelan Supreme Court

Boaventura de Sousa Santos, In Defence of Venezuela

-- Richard Fidler

Thursday, July 20, 2017

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

Jaime Pastor, interviewed by Josep Casulleras Nualart


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

Manifestación 11 Setembre

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Richard Fidler

Interview with Jaime Pastor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are they unaware of the Catalan reality?

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

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

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

You say the referendum is legitimate and legal.

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

What consequences will the referendum have in the Spanish state?

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

How would it react?

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

Could there be a situation of regression?

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

Better that we get it right…

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

What will the PSOE do?

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

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

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


Further reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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