Québec solidaire: A Left-of-which-Left Formation?

Answer to Roger Rashi

Québec solidaire is not Die Linke, still less the French NPA… Rather more like an NDP-plus which could evolve into a plain NDP. Québec solidaire is not to be compared to old left 20th century parties, which became socio-liberal, but to the Parti québécois (PQ), a nationalist populist party which became fully neoliberal a long time ago. Winning over political activists to the left of the centre-right, Québec solidaire unites centre-left people, that is social-liberals, and left people, that is anti-liberals and anti-capitalists, the first group mostly at the top, the second one mostly in the rank and file. It has an anti-liberal ideological discourse, sometimes bordering on anti-capitalism, in contradiction to its social-liberal positions and its vote-catching practice. Hence the lack of a program after existing for almost four years and participating in two general elections. It takes the flattering media stardom of its two spokespersons to glue the party together. Québec solidaire has its origins in the rise of the anti-globalisation and anti-war movements of 2000-2003 but also in the strategic defeat of the social movement in 2005-2006. There are a good number of feminists and community activists in the party while the trade union and even the ecology movements are much less represented. The QS membership has stagnated, with ups and downs, since its foundation.

Social-liberals are split between Québec solidaire and the PQ

Why choose as a benchmark the French anti-capitalist NPA and not the ambiguous anti-liberal Parti de la Gauche closer to the German Die Linke? Why ignore the social-liberal Canadian NDP? Is it not a way to subtly draw Québec solidaire to the left? Roger Rashi`s point of comparison is entirely problematic. First he states that the PQ is only “fulfilling the role of the `institutional left` in Québec…” But this party, which is not left, would have a practice and program marked by `neoliberalism with a human face`. To resolve the contradiction in which the author finds himself, we just have to examine the reality and the last program of the PQ. Right at the advent of neoliberalism, in 1982, the PQ government cut by 20% the salaries of employees of the State. While in opposition, in the late 80s, it was the Canadian champion of free trade with the United States. Returning to power in the late 90s, the PQ became Ottawa`s faithful relay, pursuing a policy of “zero deficit” and implementing cuts in corporate and high income taxes from which Quebec public services have yet to recover. This item from the PQ 2008 election platform could not be clearer:

1.2. Supporting business
• Eliminate by 2010 the tax on capital.
• Lowering the marginal effective corporate tax.
• Adopt tax measures aimed at encouraging private investment, including investment in equipment.”

Where then are the social-liberals? Because of the national question, many of them remain in the PQ, especially trade unionists and francophone environmentalists. After all, the PQ in initiating the referendums of 1980, and especially 1995, needed to build a nationalist bloc including the union brass. Those more sensitive to social issues — particularly anti-poverty activists and social workers repelled by the contempt of the PQ for the poor — are mostly in Québec Solidaire, particularly in the national leadership, including the one elected at the Congress of November 2009. While the QS rank and file took a step forward by proclaiming the party to be as “indépendantiste” as it is “souverainiste”, surpassing the original “Declaration of Principles”, the new leadership (elected by acclamation, without a debate between alternative platforms, on the basis of only brief biographies), is less “souverainiste” than the former one. Yet, the former leadership, in the pre-Congress debate, had favoured dropping any reference to both sovereignty and independence in favour of a populist appeal to the “pays”!

A nationalist independentism for a social-liberal “social project”

Still, the QS Congress failed to defend its pro-independence stand as the answer to national oppression. Instead, it justifies it as a nationalist affirmation based on the cultural and social differences of a minority nation and on the need to acquire a set of powers to fully realize its “social project”… for which there is yet no program. For example, the leadership of Québec solidaire has remained completely silent on all issues related to the conference at Copenhagen, on which the Liberals and the PQ had taken clear positions, before and during the conference and since then, up to today. This nationalist based independentism leads Québec solidaire to be for the land rights of Aboriginal and Inuit … but at the same time to deny that they have territories of their own by affirming “the necessary coexistence on the same territory”. This is far from the “full recognition of their right to self-determination” as Roger Rashi says. The Congress was unable to affirm that “the Quebec ‘National Question’ and the ‘Social Question’ must be linked in a strategy of social transformation’” on an equal footing. The tendency is still to present a kind of reverse mirror image of the program of the PQ, that is, to subordinate the national question to the social question. For Québec solidaire, independence is not (yet) the spearhead of a project of national liberation, in all its dimensions, in which the people of Quebec act autonomously in the affairs of a world more interdependent than ever.

While it is true that the rise of the anti-globalization movement at the beginning of the decade had demonstrated the viability of a Quebec left party, it is the strategic defeat, a few years later, of the entire social movement that was the main backdrop to the founding of Québec solidaire. The national leadership concluded from these defeats of “the street” that electioneering was now viable. For them, the relation between electoral activity and involvement in social struggles has been “resolved” since the beginning in favour of the former. To the malaise created by this choice with the anti-liberal rank and file, the leadership offered a never debated nor voted Manifesto, “To overcome the crisis: beyond capitalism?” which has the virtue of a soothing Sunday speech concealing a real social-liberal anti-crisis program. For example, the Manifesto recommends that victims of collective dismissals form thinly subsidized cooperatives and that victims of capitalized private pension funds voluntarily invest a larger portion of their salary into a capitalized state fund that has lost 25% of its market value, more than most private funds. The anti-crisis program is not so much about relieving the suffering of the people than supporting a green and socially responsible Quebecois capitalism. After his election, Québec solidaire`s only Member of the National Assembly (MNA) told the leading newspaper in English Canada:

There’s nothing radical about Québec solidaire‘s demands, Mr. Khadir said, rejecting the notion his party lacks credentials to defend economic policies. He maintained that Québec solidaire was asking nothing more than what president-elect Barack Obama has promised in the United States.” (Rhéal Séguin, Globe and Mail, December 18, 2008)

Searching for an alliance with PQ

What about the relations with the PQ, Québec solidaire’s major electoral competitor in the winnable electoral ridings? Is it a rivalry between a neoliberal and a anti-liberal party as an alternative to the rightist federalist Liberal Party, the “normal” party of the bourgeoisie, now in power? As stated by the spokeswoman, and now president, of Québec solidaire, in the election campaign of November/December 2008 about the possibility of an alliance with the PQ, “the phone never rang. […] We’re open to dialogue. “(Radio-Canada). This opening was confirmed by the new MNA: “It’s up to us to agree. Even 4% can make a difference in a close election. “(L’Aut’Journal, February 2009). Therefore there is no question of “wresting away sections of labour and the mass movements from the PQ … ” as Roger Rashi says. For now the PQ does not want such an alliance which does not seem to be electorally profitable since, first, the electoral score of Québec solidaire has stagnated at just under 4% from the 2007 election to the 2008 one, which corresponds to somewhat higher scores in the polls, and secondly because the PQ is chasing after the vote of the federalist, nationalist and ultra-right ADQ which is rapidly losing ground.

Searching for anti-capitalist collectives

What are the small anticapitalist organizations doing in this galley? They recognize that Québec solidaire is the first attempt to organize a mass party of the left since the early 80s; the first rank and file party, not coming from the nationalist wing of the Liberal Party as the PQ does, to have succeeded electing an MNA since the late ’40s when the Quebec wing of the CCF managed to have a sitting member in Quebec City. They find they are statutorily recognized as collectives, however with no right of representation anywhere, the alternative being a propagandist isolation often leading to sectarianism. The problem is not there. These groups are happy, to varying degrees depending on the group and on the circumstances, to oscillate between ideological statements, revolutionary or ecosocialist, and tactical manoeuvres at the top of the party to push the leadership to the left. The common axis of their approach remains an alliance with the social-liberal leadership while standing to its left and making itself useful by providing organizational work. Excluded is any construction of a visible and vocal oppositional pole based on an independentist and anti-capitalist axis that would propose an emergency anti-crisis program, a tactic for building a party of the streets and an alternate leadership.

-Marc Bonhomme, anti-capitalist activist of Québec solidaire

December 23, 2009