Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Random Thoughts on PQ Victory

so yesterday were the quebec elections. the pq won a minority government (although i guess in theory the liberals and the more right-wing caq could form a coalition) but not enough seats for a majority, which means it will be difficult to push through any controversial legislation. which is probably a good thing.

the pq historically was founded as a social democratic party, much similar to today's quebec solidaire (which won 2 seats, doubling), but back 40 years ago at a time when there was real (if not extreme) national oppression of québecois.

though others might take issue with this, i would argue that there is no more actual national oppression of québecois (though this could change in the unlikely but not impossible scenario of occupation following a referendum to secede) and as such any progressive content to this nationalism is gone. Over the years the PQ has been in and out of government, has held referendums on sovereignty, and has slowly expelled and alienated much of its left-wing (at first this was done with the help of the rcmp, who had a highly placed mole Claude Morin in the pq in the 70s who helped work with the federal police to isolate leftists).

while the pq has flirted with racism for a long time (it is difficult to not ever flirt with racism if you are a mass-based nationalist movement), over the past ten years this has become more brazen, as the effects of immigration from third world countries have begun to be seen in quebec (canada had a white's-first immigration policy until the late 60s, jettisoned as part of the overall world neocolonial changes) and there has been a need to replace yesterday's social democracy with another selling point. in 2007 the new head of the pq, party insider Pauline Marois, tried to jump on broader racist tensions by proposing a various restrictions on women who wear the islamic headscarf, and french fluency tests as a requirement for standing for office. i wrote about this back in 2007 (the adq referred to in the post has since become the caq, which came in third in yesterday's election)

in the 1990s, the pq was able to use its contacts in the left (esp. the trade unions and community groups) to sabotage fightback against various cutbacks; here are a couple of paragraphs i wrote about this previously (part of a much longer piece):

Here in Quebec, for instance, in the 1970s and 1980s many progressive activists joined the State, both via the Parti Québecois and also through non-party channels, in unofficial capacities as professional paid organizers with various “popular organizations” which were financially and politically tied to the PQ. (From what i understand, a similar phenomenon occurs at times in places in English Canada, though with the NDP.) Of course, at its “best” the PQ (like the NDP) was only ever social democratic, not communist or anti-imperialist, but my point is that some of these activists who fell under its sway were not soc-dems, were in fact socialists or self-styled “revolutionaries” who felt that there were making a mature strategic decision.

And then... when the PQ came to power in 1994... many of these activists – despite, or perhaps even because of their subjective good intentions – ended up sabotaging and hindering any resistance to the PQ’s cutbacks. People who had been outspoken in denouncing the previous Liberal government clammed up as they got jobs as anti-poverty “government consultants.” One of the first battles radical working class activists had to fight was actually against these false “allies,” who were doing more to sabotage the movement than the State could have ever managed had it relied on naked repression alone. Which is why anarchists, Maoists and some who would become left communists played a disproportional role in what resistance did occur… not because they had any kind of real base amongst the oppressed, but because they were the only ones who were not hindered by their own ties to the State.

in the context of coming social conflicts, it is unclear to what extent the pq will be able to count on such allies in our ranks. the past 20 years have pretty much burnt many of those bridges, and even some of the montreal trade union locals were calling on people to vote QS in this election. On the other hand, the PQ does retain the most contacts in the trade unions, and both of the less-radical student organizations are essentially training grounds for the party (in fact, Léo Bureau-Blouin who was one of the student leaders with the FECQ during the student strike's first months just won a seat as a PQ mla)

as for QS, 2 seats was really a minimum that they could win given their very prominent position as the only party to be clearly behind the demands of the student strike, so despite the fact that they doubled their number of mlas i find it difficult to see this as a big leap forward. of course had the strike not happened, i would be much more impressed. and it is true that there are other neighbourhoods (all in montreal i believe) where they came in second and not third.

if the national question comes to the forefront now, that's a bit of a drag. as some of you know, i am pretty sympathetic to national liberation movements, but these movements take on a different character based on the position of the nation in question within the world imperialist system, and also the classes demanding national independence. from past experience, to put it pretty unscientifically and unideologically, i find when the question comes to the fore here what it means is more unpleasant conversations and more stupidity throughout quebec and canada. from different kinds of people, pro- and anti-nationalist, english and french.

i consider this increase in stupidity to be a direct consequence of the lack of a coherent left analysis of colonialism or capitalism in the canadian context. rather than analyzing colonialism as an ongoing process, i.e. one that exists because of what is happening now, many leftists seem unable to transcend the liberal idea of colonialism being measured by how long the colonized had been here. According to this logic, Indigenous people are the "most" colonized (which is self-evident) but not because of current conditions of nationhood and national oppression, but because of some kind of colonial-seniority system. Québecois are 'less colonized' again not because of anything going on today, but because they were not here 'first'. This analysis has nothing to do with anti-imperialism or anti-capitalism, it has to do with looking in history books for who-was-where-when. And it locks people into either completely discounting Quebec nationalism throughout all points in history (as the nationalism of colonizers, who cannot be oppressed nationally because they were not the first ones here) or else refusing to see that Quebec is no longer colonized (because despite acting as an imperialist nation without a state, New France was conquered by England).

The key to understanding the world is to understand that things change. Classes change. Nations change. Dynamics between classes and nations change. The left often trains people to be conservative, missing the boat on these facts.

one of the consequences of this polarization-along-stupid-lines is a gutless attempt to "understand" quebec nationalism as a potential "progressive" force. this is due in part to a soft spot many leftists and anarchists still have for social democracy. such rose-colored glasses can even lead some people on the left to make excuses for racism, in a way that does not normally happen in "polite left company" elsewhere. the society may be no more racist than other settler imperialist societies, but the left is torn between not wanting to deal with this, or else framing this in a sensationalistic way. as i once joked, liberal opinion about Quebec separation varies between those who think it would be a Cuba of the north, and those who would expect concentration camps to start popping up along the St-Lawrence.

another form of stupidity is a macho recasting of everyone who is not french (whether someone living in poverty and dealing with ongoing colonization on Native land, or a wealthy anglo living in the suburbs) as part of some oppressed group who should get ready to resist "the separatists" - this latter category is mainly the purview of the right, but it's a confused amalgam. last time there was a surge in nationalism here this current found expression in a partitionist movement that demanded neighbourhood-by-neighbourhood referenda if Quebec separates, which would essentially have created enclave-states like West Berlin (or Northern Ireland) in Montreal. While this movement was largely the purview of the right, given that similar arguments and logic is dominant in many Indigenous nations (with much more basis in political and historical reality) it can make odd bedfellows.

In this context, this guy may be crazy, but is worth noting - yesterday shortly after the PQ won he entered the victory party and let off shots, killing someone. Shouting about "anglos not going to take it" or some such gibberish.

spree shooters and attempted assassinations are not nearly as common in canada as in the u.s., so this is pretty unexpected and difficult for me to wrap my head around, but worth noting at least. whether or not he is a part of some political group, it is sure that this attack opens up the possibility for a more rapid polarization along these useless lines.


the above is really just a pretty random and fragmented rehashing of observations i have made before, perhaps something more coherent will be written soon...

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