An article that I wrote a few years ago on the necessity of combining socialism with love of country, which bemoans the fact that a large part of the Québécois left is mired in anti-nationalism primarily.
Patriotism and Socialism
How can socialism be compatible with patriotism? If we rely on a certain part of what they generally call “the left,” they are two antagonistic terms and any idea of making a synthesis between them is rejected off hand. Patriotic pride is often a taboo subject among the people of the left who in some cases do not hesitate to indiscriminately throw the epithets of racists, xenophobes, even fascists at the heads of those who claim it. According to a well known anarchist movement in Québec, the UCL (Union Communiste Libertaire), nationalism or patriotism divides the working class and tends to create sentiments of solidarity between the bourgeois and the workers within the same nation1. The workers do not have a country is their most recent watchword! As if from the start the workers aren’t born within a determined nation! The working class is certainly international, in the sense that it exists in every country, but each worker comes into the world in a country with a particular language and culture.
More often the anarchists and other currents of the “left” serve us the catchphrase of the necessity of a world without borders where workers live in fraternity, love without limits, and where all national and ethnic conflicts would disappear like magic! Certainly conflicts between nations and countries are not a positive element in international political life and often generate innumerable tragedies and disasters. That said, the disappearance of borders is by no means a panacea to avoid these types of murderous and devastating conflicts. On the contrary, it could even favor inter-ethnic wars, as there would be no more barriers to prevent or at least rein in an army from invading a neighboring territory. We can very well be proud patriots while supporting peoples and workers in the struggle everywhere in the world. A rational and thoughtful patriotism does not prevent international and internationalist solidarity.
We must not forget that capitalism, as the union leader Michel Chartrand said so well, is a system without a country2. The capitalists promote brutal and merciless ultraliberal globalization, which tramples the different cultures and national identities as much as the rights and social benefits strenuously won by the working class. They do everything lower our working and living conditions through destructive standardization. Contrary to certain myths propagated by so-called “internationalist” militants, the bosses are not particularity attached to patriotic sentiments and the defense of the fatherland, though they sometimes use it in order to give themselves a facade of respectability with the workers of their nation. They often do it in order to tear sacrifices from the producers of wealth, by affirming in a totally deceiving and demagogic manner that “the national interest” requires concessions in order to “save” the economy of the country against its competitors.
In the case of Québec, the national capitalists if we can so call them, never distinguished themselves in their support for national independence nor in the fight for the defense of French language and culture. During the two referendums, in 1980 and 1995, the principal employers’ organizations, including the Conseil du Patronat du Québec, called to vote No. The bosses who were recognized for their nationalist convictions, like Claude Béland of Mouvement Desjardins and the late Pierre Péladeau of Québécor, remained rather silent during the referendum campaign of 1995. The Québécois independence movements were and still are always much more supported by the unions, popular groups, feminists groups, it is those groups who are at the forefront of mobilizations for independence and the defense of French language and culture and have been since the 1960s. There have been different socialist movements in history that supported the national liberation struggle of the Québécois people, including the Parti Communiste du Canada Français lead by the unionist Henri Gagnon, the Rassemblement pour Indépendance Nationale (RIN), the Front de Libération Populaire (FLP), Mouvement Socialiste, the Parti Marxiste-Leniniste du Québec, and Québec Solidaire, even if the pro-independence and socialist discourse of that body seems tepid to many. The Coalition against the Project of Law 103, which then became Law 115, on bridging schools in order to bypass Law 101 and thus permit Francophone and Allophone children to enroll in English school, counts in its ranks numerous unions, like the CSN (Confédération des syndicats nationaux) and the CSQ (Centrale des syndicats du Québec) and not a single employer’s organization3. So it’s clear that the Québécois capitalists, in their large majority, do not seek to stir up Québécois patriotic feeling and on the contrary, are very complacent in the face of rampant Anglicization, while the worker’s and popular movement expresses deep concerns in this regard. The very facile affirmation that all nationalist and patriotic feeling is necessarily bourgeois is thus refuted by these examples drawn from Québécois political life.
If we take the time of analyze the socialist experiences of the 20th century, we can easily state that they were by no means totally devoid of patriotism. The great Soviet leader Josef Stalin decided to concentrate on the construction of socialism in one country, which happened to be the USSR, following the failures of the revolutions in Europe during the 1920s. He appealed to Russian patriotic sentiments during the Second World War against Nazi aggression. Stalin was the inspiration for and developer of patriotic socialism and uncompromisingly fought cosmopolitanism. The Cuban Revolution in 1959 drove the imperialist Yankee exploiters from Cuban soils and permitted the people of this country to rediscover their national dignity and pride as has been flouted for decades. Fidel Castro did not hesitate to pronounce his famous “Fatherland or death. We will win!” during a speech in Havana in 1960. We must not forget that the Cuban Revolution was initiated by M-26, a left wing national-revolutionary movement, as find find throughout Latin America. The Chinese Revolution in 1949 was the result and the crowning event of a national liberation struggle against Japanese imperialism and also against Yankee intervention since the end of the Second World War. Moreover, Mao Tse-Tung, who was the head of the Chinese Communist party during the time, had already said, “Can a Communist, who is an internationalist, be a patriot at the same time? We hold not only that he can be, but that he must be. The specific content of patriotism is determined by historical conditions… For only by fighting in defense of the motherland can we defeat the aggressors and achieve national liberation.”4 (“The Role of the Chinese Communist Party in the National War” )
The cited extracts clearly demonstrate that Mao, contrary to what some people on the Québécois left say about him, did not disdain patriotism and considered it as an essential element of his political thought. As the Albanian Communist leader Enver Hoxha said so well, “ Now, at the grave moments through which the Homeland was passed, facing dangers which threatened its existence, we communists would undoubtedly base ourselves firmly on the rich patriotic and fighting traditions of our people, on their tendency and readiness to unite in the fight for freedom.5” (“Laying the Foundations of the New Albania”). Some can respond to us by essentially saying that Québec is not a militarily occupied nation and that they only support people who face military aggression. Even if Québec is not under direct military occupation on the part of Anglo-Canadian imperialism, it is still dominated by the latter and its right of national self-determination is not recognized in practice.
The Yugoslavian revolution lead by Marshall Tito in 1945 is an excellent model of a successful national liberation struggle. Josip Broz Tito defended the independence of his country against redoubtable adversaries. He adopted socialism to the conditions of his country and played a first rate role in the movement of non-aligned countries who refused to put themselves in the service of one superpower or the other. In 1967, Tito didn’t hesitate to cut off relations with Israel in solidarity with the Arab peoples.6
Since April 2014, Québec is once again under the iron rule of a liberal and resolutely federalist government, fundamentally hostile to any will to national liberation, which has implemented a draconian austerity program and budget cuts in social programs. The Parti Québécois’ brief return to power between September 2012 and April 2014 was strongly disappointing. After having canceled the drastic tuition hike decreed by the Jean Charest government and unleashing the famous “Maple Spring,” the PQ proceeded with budget cuts, notably to social aid, and pledged to increase childcare rates $2 in two years. Disillusionment towards the PQ combined with the fiasco of the Charter of Québécois Values lead to its electoral rout on April 7th 2014 and the PLQ’s (Parti libéral du Québec) return to power. Ex-CEO of Québécor, Pierre-Karl Péladeau wanted to present himself as the savior of Parti Québécois, but hardly a year after his election to the leadership of the party, he resigned. All of this shows the dead-end of the PQ’s bourgeois souverainisme and the necessity of a pro-independence and socialist alternative.
In Québec patriotism can only have meaning if it is fused with socialism and the overthrow of the capitalism. Without it we will only reproduce the Canadian system on a smaller scale and we will still face the same social and economic injustices caused by the exploitative capitalist system, without a fatherland and evermore brutal.
For the national and social liberation of Québec!
1) L’ABC de l’UCL, Brochure de l’Union Communiste Libertaire, p.6
2) Michel Chartrand is generally appreciated very much by anarchists because of his combative syndicalism. But his famous remark about the rootlessness of capitalism is always passed over in silence by them, just like they quite often minimize his patriotic activism, only speaking of syndicalist and social struggle. For anarchists, there cannot be links between the two.
4) “The Role of the Chinese Communist Party in the National War” in Textes choisis de Mao Tsetoung, Éditions en Langues Étrangères, Pékin, 1972, pp.149-150
5) Hoxha, Enver, Quand on jettait les fondements de l’Albanie nouvelle, Institut Marx, Engels, Lénine, Staline, Toronto, 1985, p.11