The Western Socialist
Vol. 37 - No. 278
No. 6, 1970
At 4:30 A.M., October 16, 1970, the War Measures Act of 1914 was invoked by the Government in Ottawa for the first time in Canada's peace-time history. Threatened — or seemingly threatened — by a rival political power-group, pledged to the separation of Quebec from Canada by terrorist means, the central headquarters of Canada's total-national capitalist class sprang into action. The civil rights that modern capitalism needs for efficient operation were brushed aside and despite opposition by sections of the bourgeoisie itself both in Quebec Province and throughout Canada — Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau put his velvet gloves into storage, for the time being, and shook both mailed fists most vehemently — to the accolades of the majority both at home and abroad.
For some members of the terrorist, self-styled Marxist, Front for the Liberation of Quebec (FLQ) there were not many civil rights before the emergency powers were reactivated. Some had been held without bail, on obscure charges, and Federal troops had been deployed in Quebec and around the parliament buildings in Ottawa after British diplomat James Cross and Provincial Minister of Labor Pierre Laporte had been abducted and held for ransom, and before the War Measures Act was suddenly announced. Under the Act the FLQ was outlawed as were similar organizations advocating the violent overthrow of the government. Any members or supporters are eligible for a $5000.00 fine and five years in prison. Not that arrests are necessarily confined to members and supporters, though. Only a "reason to suspect" is needed for arrest, under the law, anywhere in Canada. And those suspected can be held for 21 days without charge or possibility of bail, and 90 days before a trial date is set. Suspects are deemed guilty unless otherwise proven, etc.
In the time-honored way of "no holds barred" political warfare, the police began knocking on the doors of suspects at the crack of dawn, employing the element of surprise as much as possible. Some Communist, Trotskyite and Maoist agitators who parroted the FLQ dogma were included in the police net. But gradually, New Democratic Party politicians, civil libertarians, and liberals began to wonder if the threat in Quebec had really been grave enough to warrant the powers that were declared.
NDP leader Tommy Douglas thought not and criticized the cabinet for acting without consulting the opposition parties on new legislation to handle the situation. He said it was like using a sledge hammer to kill a flea. He may or may not have been naive enough to think that the governmental executive of one power group was going to debate (and therefore broadcast) its intentions about a new bill, for days before moving against a rival power group. The War Measures Act was already on the books and was adequate. Mr. Trudeau, acting in the interests of Canadian capitalism, had no apparent alternative. Nor did Quebec Premier Bourassa feel he had an alternative to fast action. The initial call for the emergency powers came from the Quebec Provincial Government. While Cross and Laporte were being held, Mr. Bourassa had received a message that he, too, was wanted by the terrorists and his cabinet was, by this time, meeting in secret on the 20th floor of Montreal's closely guarded Queen Elizabeth Hotel and in the province's Hydro Quebec building.
Whether or not the situation was as critical as the Provincial and Federal Governments thought it was is, of course, in the area of second-guessing. Prime Minister Trudeau claimed that his government had knowledge of a greater menace but that it may never be possible to make this secret monster known to the public. And Time Magazine, in its edition of Oct. 26, 1970, reported:
"Now, at the Sauve arena a few hours later, there came a groundswell of student opinion that threatened to spill out into the streets. 'We were tolerant as long as we felt it was justified to be tolerant,' Bourassa said later. One high federal source recounted the view from Ottawa: 'The call to public manifestation of support for the FLQ was direct, it was accelerating, and it was having its effects. People were jittery, wavering. They didn't know what was right, what would happen. The rate of erosion of public opinion was frightening. If you'd let it go another week or so you could have had an explosion.'" (Our italics.)
Since then a rumor, neither confirmed nor denied by Ottawa, circulates that a significant percentage of Provincial Government members were in favor of a conciliatory attitude to the FLQ and acceding to their demands. The story by Mayor Drapeau of Montreal was given the same treatment by Ottawa, that a group of prominent citizens, of "good faith" had considered setting up a provisional government. They believed that "instead of showing a rigid reaction there should rather be an attitude of understanding . . ." with the FLQ. Whether the two governments "overreacted" or not, these protectors of the privileged few thought it necessary to use a new terror, a greater terror than the FLQ could muster, through the power of the state, to ensure the safety of the few against the rival few. The Governments of Mr. Bourassa and Mr. Trudeau, seemingly, had cause to fear an "incipient insurrection."
Time magazine (Oct. 19, 1970) in sympathy with the two Canadian administrations said, "To have to balance human life against abstract concepts of social order must involve one of the most desperate decisions a government must make." As is known, it did not take these governments long to make the decision. And in the tradition of governments, which all claim to represent society, Prime Minister Trudeau used these words: "Society must take every means at its disposal to defend itself against the emergence of a parallel power in this country . . . "
The popular concept of "social order" is so abstract, indeed, that its relevance to reality lies in the realm of fantasy. Political power is nothing more than the organized power of one class to dominate another. Trudeau exposed the class nature of modern society by referring to a parallel power. Parallel to what? Parallel to the power that now controls society, of course. Were society not divided into economic classes there could be no "power." No class divisions, no rival economic interests, and no reason for the existence of a ruling power.
But the time has not arrived when the class struggle has narrowed to two united political groupings contesting the very basis of society. The struggle in Quebec Province is essentially a conflict between two main adversaries, each with capitalist goals. As in the case of the Palestine Liberationist Movement*, the Front for the Liberation of Quebec is but a minority within the Separatist organization. Separatism in Quebec gets its big impetus from traditional native businessmen and a professional elite who fear the competition from big outside capital unless — of course — they can have their fingers in the pie. As do capitalists everywhere, they use the archaic prejudices of their victims to further their own political struggle against other blocs of capital. In this case the victims are the large percentage of underskilled and underpaid French-speaking workers who have long nurtured a grudge against their fellow-workers — as well as capitalists — with English background. They are the intended victims of Separatism because a victory for Quebec Separatism might conceivably improve the fortunes of the owning class — even in a retrogressive provincial state — but only by the continuing exploitation of the Quebec workers of all language and ethnic backgrounds. Wages must remain wages.
As Prime Minister Trudeau, who familiarized himself with the picture in Quebec from the angle of big business needs put it:
"The truth is that the separatist counterrevolution is the work of a powerless petit-burgeois minority afraid of being left behind by the twentieth century revolution. Rather than carving themselves out a place in it by ability, they want to make the whole tribe return to the wigwams by declaring its independence. That, of, course, will not prevent the outside world from progressing by giant's strides; it will not change the rules and the facts of history, nor the real power relationship in North America." (Federalism and the French-Canadians.)
Which demonstrates that Mr. Trudeau does not know too much about his subject. This mid-Victorian, conservative objective of the Separatists is no more revolutionary — ands therefore no more counter revolutionary to Mr. Trudeau — than a provincial statute would be to stop Alberta chickens from competing with Quebec birds on the French Canadian market. Neither the would-be rulers of a separate Quebec, nor those workers who think their social problems can be solved through political isolation, by a return to some half-forgotten era where they assume they will be pampered by local entrepreneurs are realistic' enough to be revolutionary in any meaningful sense of the word. Nor counter-revolutionary in the sense of Trudeau and the total national capitalist class of Canada which he represents. For their goal is the retention of a "progressive" capitalism that is rotten ripe for genuine socialist overthrow.
But what of the Front for Quebec Liberation, a self-styled Marxist (or Marxist - Leninist) organization? There is an unavoidable parallel between it and the Nazi and Fascist movements of the pre-World War II era. All used disillusioned working-class support; all were controlled financially and ideologically by some capitalist group in the background; all tossed in the word "socialist" for whatever propaganda use it might bring. In addition, the FLQ — as did its Fascist and Nazi counterparts — fosters nationalism, violence and terrorist tactics, and a "rightist" racial bias. They are afflicted, for example, with the rehabilitated myth of Jewish financial control. One of their intended kidnap victims was the Israeli Consul and trade commissioner in Montreal, an abduction that didn't come off. They distort the meaning of the word "race" in a different fashion from blacks and whites, for example. To them, they are a different race from their English-United States business "enemies." In their Manifesto the FLQ argue: "The most blatant (form of exploitation) being linguistic segregation: the necessity to speak two languages because we are Quebecois." (Our italics.)
(Not that the more modern and progressive ruling class of Canada is any clearer on this question. When applying for a job in the federal civil service or the armed forces, applicants are asked for "racial" background as: English? French-Canadian? German? Yugoslav . . . ???)
But the nationalism of FLQ self-styled Marxists is narrower — if this is possible — than the usual variety. Not only do they advocate the continuation of the exploitative (wage-labor and capital) relationship of capitalism, they champion the cause of a chauvinistic retreat into provincialism.
It is difficult, if not impossible, to conceive of a separate Quebec in the manner of the typical Quebec Separatists. As a couple of young fellows (who concluded that the abolition of the present society required that the majority must first understand it) described this aspect of the system over a century ago:
"The bourgeoisie, by the rapid improvement of all instruments of production, by the immensely facilitated means of communication, draws all, even the most barbarian, nations into civilization. The cheap prices of its commodities are the heavy artillery with which it batters down all Chinese walls, with which it forces the barbarians' intensely obstinate hatred of foreigners to capitulate. It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilization into their midst, i.e., to become bourgeois themselves. In one word, it creates a world after its own image." (Marx & Engels, Communist Manifesto, 1948, S.P.G.B.)
But the FLQ "Marxists" are far ahead (or behind) the one-time revolutionary bourgeoisie. It would rather return to a lower stage of development than aim for a higher stage. Rather than work for a socialist revolution, one in which the majority of the population takes control of the highly developed industries and facilities now controlled by a world capitalist class, they would rather work for the establishment of their own, provincial capitalism in their own little corner, speaking their own language, clinging to their own antiquated customs.
The Socialist Party of Canada is in full sympathy with Quebec workers in the terrible conditions they are compelled to endure, as it is with workers everywhere. But we maintain that freedom must be equated with knowledge. World capitalism is a brick wall that cannot be budged by ignorance and violence. For a small section of Quebec workers to jump through a hoop, as performing dogs, at the command of a breakaway splinter group of the owning class; then to challenge the armed might of that class with dynamite, terror and rifles, is equivalent to going after a polar bear with a pea shooter.** Neither they nor the working class, as a whole, have anything to gain by such tactics. They have much to lose, as for example, civil rights. For as long as there is no sizable movement for world socialism in any nation, the removal of civil rights by the ruling class is less difficult. We urge Quebec workers and all Canadian workers to examine the case of the Socialist Party of Canada and its Companion Parties throughout the world. Do you really want freedom? It can be achieved, but only after capitalism, the wages system, world capitalism, is abolished.