When Quebec Premier Jean Parizeau blamed the defeat of the vote to separate Quebec from Canada on "money and the ethnic vote," he gave us a brief glimpse of the essence of the Quebec separatist movement. Fundamentally, it is a fascist movement, hiding behind the facade of "preserving French culture." It is more like the nationalist rivalries in Yugoslavia than different from them. Like them, it is an attempt -- successful, so far -- to win Quebec workers to put their trust in "quebecois" politicians and businessmen, who will cut back wages and social benefits in the name of "preserving the nation." An independent Quebec would have led to sharp, Gingrich-style attacks on the standard of living of French Quebec workers, as well as to openly racist attacks against non-French Quebeckers.
Til the early `60s Quebec capitalists controlled the French working class as a cheap labor force through a dictatorship supported by the extremely conservative Quebec Catholic Church. "Traditional values" were maintained: the Church censored all films (including Protestant films like "Martin Luther") and attacked Jews and unionists as communists. Women did not win the vote until 1944, when -- briefly -- the Quebec/Church dictatorship was out of power for failure to support the British side in WWII. Even then, Cardinal Taschereau threatened to excommunicate any woman working in the mainly upper-class women's suffrage movement, though he backed off at the last moment. Religious indoctrination in Catholic schools was compulsory; no secular, non-religious education was allowed at all.
With the death of dictator Maurice Duplessis in 1959, things changed swiftly. The `60s saw a rapid flowering of French-Canadian culture together with a drastic "secularization," as millions of Quebeckers rejected Church cultural strictures; its political influence plummetted. The Quebec ruling class had lost the ideological control over the working class that religion had traditionally given it.
The result was rising class consciousness. In 1970 and again in 1972 general strikes rocked the province as blue-and white-collar workers demanded job security and greater benefits -- in other words, the share of the profits their labor had earned, and which they had been denied as a low-wage, low-benefit work force for so long. The Quebec working class was the most militant in North America.
Religion having failed as a means to control most workers, the Quebec ruling class -- especially the French employers and politicians -- turned towards nationalism to deflect the workers' militancy. It proved a winning tactic. The separatist movement arose during the 1960s as a reaction against the racism suffered by French speakers at the hands of the English ruling class for so long. But it was mainly a terrorist movement, infamous for assassinations and bombing mailboxes. Its leaders were captured and imprisoned.
Now the separatist movement was revived as a mainstream political movement. It disguised itself as a movement to preserve French language and culture, which are, in fact, constantly on the decrease in the province in the face of English and especially American cultural influences, as well as the age-old racism against the French exercised by the British since 1763.
Laws were passed favoring French in every walk of life, even to the point of discriminating against English speakers, many of whom, along with much capital, fled Montreal for Toronto. Tensions between English and French Quebeckers grew, as the racism long exercised against the French was now being answered, not with a multi- racial, anti-racist approach, but with counter-racism.
In the `82 vote for separatism, defeated 60%-40%, an American-born friend of mine worked for separatism on cultural grounds. A teacher of French to immigrants, she loves Quebec French culture and language, and saw no problem with making Quebec "monolingually" French.
But soon after she noticed another tendency. Separatist friends began to shun her because she was not "de vieille souche", "pure laine": because she was not ethnically quebecoise! Suddenly, language and culture was not what separatism was really about. Furthermore, she is Jewish, and she saw the traditional anti-semitism once associated with the discredited Catholic Church re-emerging in the separatist movement.
Another friend, a university professor born of English-speaking parents but sent to French schools all his life and now teaching at an all-French university, now tells me some of his "separatist" students treat him the same way. Regardless of how "French" he may be culturally, he is not ethnically French-Canadian, and so can never be part of the "nation."
See the parallel with Yugoslavia? Your ancestors can have lived in Serbia for centuries but, if you are a Muslim, you're "not a Serb" by the fascist standards that constitute Serbian "nationhood. Exactly as in Hitler's Germany -- or, for that matter, in Germany today, where no Jew, no matter how many centuries their ancestors have lived in Germany or how "germanized" they are culturally, is a "German", while German- speakers whose ancestors moved to Russia in the 18th century are still part of the "volk."
The reasons for the essentially fascist nationalist movement in Quebec are the same as the reasons the German ruling class turned to the Nazis in the `30s, or that the elites in Yugoslavia and throughout Eastern Europe have turned to fascist nationalism: to deflect and suppress class struggle. In the `20s Germany had the most militant labor movement and the biggest Communist party outside the USSR. Revolution to get rid of capitalism seemed on the horizon while, in the meantime, the German working class was fighting militantly for higher wages and benefits, with Communists leading much of the struggle. Hitler appealed to the industrialists to "renationalize the working class" through Naziism, then build German rulers an Empire like the other Western powers had, and defeat Communism once and for all by destroying the Soviet Union.
During the past decade the Eastern European elites, no longer even nominally "communist" (that is, supporters of the working class), turned to fascist nationalism to deflect the attention of the working classes from the fact that the reversion to free-market capitalism has drastically lowered the standard of living of the working populations throughout the area. "Free-market capitalism" is making even the corrupt, phony "communist" regimes of a decade ago seem good to many workers, who have seen their jobs, wages, and benefits slashed to below poverty levels so that employers and foreign investors can enjoy high profit levels. Only "ethnic rivalries" -- racism, fascism, and, ultimately, war can keep the working classes in line behind their exploiters.
We should learn the lesson: people are fooled by the appearance of "their" fascists. Look at Israel, where most Jewish workers support, or do not actively oppose, the fascist nationalism of the Israeli government, despite the incredible holocaust of Jewish workers by the German Nazis! They see only the differences, not the fundamental similarities.
In the US "mainstream" Republicans and Democrats push nationalism all the time. So, of course, do the Nazis and Ku Klux Klan. So do the fascist, racist Militia leaders, the Aryan Nation racists, the Timothy McVeigh "states' rights" fanatics, the racist "English Only" cultural fascists. It's easy to see the differences between the "mainstream" politicians and these "fringe" groups. It's not as easy to see the fundamental similarities between them.
As in Quebec, or Yugoslavia, so in the US. As the "nationalist" movement is growing, the "liberal" and "conservative" wings pretend that the fascist wing of the movement is just a fringe who will never amount to anything. The real enemy is those who oppose the "nation."
The reality is that the fascist wing is the very essence of the nationalist movement. It is not a fringe; it is the very core. And when the nationalist movement gets somewhere, then the fascists come out in full bloom, like they are beginning to do here and in Quebec. And many, many people then follow them, because they have been bombarded with nationalist rhetoric for umpteen years.
Yugoslavia has its fascist nationalists. Quebec has its separatists. We have the Clintons and the Gingriches, with the racist Militia murderers close behind. Why? To deflect our attention from the massive economic attack being levelled against all working Americans.
The "Contract With America", including the Student Aid cutbacks, is the biggest economic blow aimed at the American working people in 50 years, since the Taft-Hartley and Landrum-Griffen Acts of the `40s were passed to weaken the then-strong and militant US labor movement. The "Contract" is being sold with racism -- attacks on immigrants and welfare recipients; with moralizing, to disguise the economic attack as "asserting moral values"; and with nationalism.
What to do? Don't fall for the scapegoating of immigrants and welfare recipients. Fight any cutbacks, whether Republican- or Democrat-inspired. The most immediate issues are (1) the threatened cutbacks in Student Aid; and (2) the threatened cuts in Faculty-Staff medical coverage by the Whitman Administration. Beyond that, the racist scapegoating of minorities -- anti-immigrant, anti-welfare, anti-affirmative action -- designed to set white and non-white working people against one another, so we can "hang separately."
(addressed to a New Jersey student audience)