Québec solidaire recently held its national congress. The leadership are on clear a rightward trajectory, seeking to water down the party’s anti-capitalist and socialist traditions in order to “prepare to govern". By this, they mean making the party acceptable to the establishment, and ready to govern within the limits of capitalism.
Marxist members of QS have been running a campaign to defend socialist ideas within the party, and presented radical demands as résolutions at the party congress, which came under attack by the leadership. A bold, socialist programme is the only way forward for workers and youth in Québec and beyond.
During Québec solidaire’s congress on Nov. 19-21, spokesman Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois set the tone when he said that the left-wing party was “preparing to govern.”
How? The debates during the weekend show for all to see that the party leadership and the Members of the National Assembly are “preparing” by moderating the party’s platform, sweeping the party’s anti-capitalist traditions and socialist proposals under the carpet. It is therefore clear that the leadership is preparing to govern within the limits of the capitalist system.
And it’s not just the Marxists who are saying this. In an interview with Richard Martineau on QUB radio, in a surreal exchange, former PQ leader Jean-François Lisée and former NDP leader Thomas Mulcair came to the same conclusion:
Lisée: “[Québec solidaire has] worked hard over the weekend…to try to be more recentred… Québec solidaire, it was an openly anti-capitalist party, now it’s no longer an anti-capitalist party, it’s still a big change. It’s a bit like when a certain Tom Mulcair convinced his party, the NDP, to stop calling itself socialist. That’s what’s going on.”
Mulcair [laughs]: “Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois is a damn good tribune and politician. Yes, it’s a recentring that is very similar to what I had to do in the NDP…”
One only has to look at the sorry state of the NDP today to see where this is likely to lead. When the loser Mulcair—who managed to turn the NDP’s lead in the early part of the 2015 election campaign into a disastrous defeat—endorses what the party leadership is doing, it doesn’t bode well.
What’s going on?
For several years now, the leadership of Québec solidaire has been working to moderate the party program and platform.
Faced with this worrying trend, socialist members of QS organized in the Collectif Tendance Marxiste Internationale have launched a campaign for socialist ideas in the party. We want to defend the anti-capitalist traditions of QS, which we see increasingly under threat.
With this in mind, we proposed three amendments at the party congress: one to nationalize the big polluters to deal with the environmental crisis, another to end public financing of big businesses, and a third proposing that if big businesses refuses to submit to QS’s tax measures, then they will be nationalized without compensation, under the democratic control of the workers.
It was against these amendments that we saw a barrage of interventions by party leaders. One after another, members of the National Coordination Committee, the main governing body of QS, and the Members of the National Assembly intervened to convince delegates to vote against these resolutions.
For example, Ruba Ghazal argued that ending public support for big businesses was a bad idea, as it deprives us of the opportunity to “provide incentives to take action for the ecological transition.” But where and when have we seen large companies receive public money and put it to good use? The use of wage subsidies by the Air Canadas of the world during the pandemic should serve as an example. Rather than trying in vain to bribe private companies to stop destroying the planet for their own enrichment, we should take control of them directly. The environmental crisis demands it.
Interestingly, the debate on the environment centred around the target for reducing greenhouse gases. Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois intervened at the beginning of the congress to propose that we stick to a target of “at least” 55 per cent reduction by 2030, rather than the 65 per cent proposal that was also being voted on. He presented the latter as too ambitious. But the fact is that under capitalism, both are too “ambitious”, because we are not in control of production. If we don’t nationalize the big polluters and establish real democratic control of our economy, corporations will continue to do as they please, and we will never succeed in saving the planet. But the party’s leadership is opposed to measures that would allow us to take real control of the economy. Manon Massé also argued against another amendment proposing to nationalize mining companies—a policy that has long been in the party’s program.
It is worth noting that the QS political committee, the body that oversees the development of the program, had sent a document to the membership prior to the congress which made arguments for and against certain amendments. It specifically targeted our amendments, with detailed arguments on why to vote against them! Clearly, the leadership did not want our propositions adopted so they threw their weight on the scale to make sure they did not pass. Despite this opposition, our socialist amendments received between 21 and 27 per cent of the vote, which is a good start for the campaign. In addition, our activists have been quoted in a host of media outlets in Québec (La Presse, Journal de Montréal, Montreal Gazette, etc.), giving the campaign visibility. We will continue our concerted effort to build support for socialist ideas in the party.
Other amendments aimed at tackling the power of the capitalists suffered the same fate. One in particular wanted to add to the platform that QS “will expropriate large property owners with more than 3,000 dwellings.” Andrés Fontecilla, the QS Member of the National Assembly responsible for housing, spoke out against this proposal. In another example of the retreat of the left within QS, even François Saillant, long-time party activist and spokesperson of the famous housing rights group FRAPRU for 37 years, also opposed it!
The tendency could not be clearer. To this day, the party platform still contains the idea that QS aims to “overcome capitalism”. Here and there, QS Members of the National Assembly give a good speech criticising the capitalist system. But when the time comes to concretize the struggle against this system, in unison the party leadership calls for no socialist elements to be included in the program or platform.
The desire to moderate in order to appear more “reasonable” has also led to backtracking on reforms long defended by the party.
On free education, a historic demand of the student movement, which launched the political career of Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois himself, the party leadership mobilized to defeat an amendment to clarify that the party would achieve this within its first term in office. The platform therefore simply says that the party wants to achieve this “eventually”. Christine Labrie, Member of the National Assembly responsible for education, spoke out against this amendment. In addition, the political committee had sent out a suggestion to vote against it.
We’ve heard this story before: reformist parties always propose to do this or that “eventually”, which invariably ends up being an excuse to never do it. If promises of implementing reforms “eventually” really meant anything, the Liberal Party of Canada would have made Canada a paradise by now. If QS does not concretely improve the lives of workers and youth with important reforms within its first mandate, the party simply won’t get a second one.
The CAQ’s Bill 21 was also debated at the congress. The March 2019 National Council voted overwhelmingly that the party would oppose any ban on religious symbols, and Manon Massé said last April that “when we take power, there is no question of this law remaining.” It seemed to us that this issue had been settled. But a proposal from the Member of the National Assembly for Hochelaga, Alexandre Leduc, proposed that QS would simply suspend the notwithstanding clauses and those prohibiting religious symbols, and then ask the Court of Appeal to rule on the discriminatory nature of the latter.
Simply put, the leadership was proposing to soften our opposition to Bill 21, and leave it to the courts to decide whether we are indeed fighting discriminatory measures!
Commenting on the congress, Renaud Poirier-St-Pierre, a staffer in GND’s office, tweeted: “Lots of changes at @QuebecSolidaire Congress. Less down-to-earth proposals are rejected, including several nationalizations. Never seen this before.” (our italics)
Indeed, we have not seen this before. The current leadership is transforming the party, from an anti-capitalist party, into a party that accepts the system and simply seeks to mitigate its worst aspects. And no, it is not “down to earth,” to maintain the exploitative capitalist system.
Reforming capitalism is not ‘realistic’
The Collectif Tendance marxiste internationale has often been the only voice explaining this ongoing and escalating tendency of the party leadership to moderate its program and platform. But at this year’s congress more than at any other, everyone can see that the party leadership is opposed to radical proposals and wants to “recentre the party”.
Josée Legault of the Journal de Montréal explains it well: “GND, too, is cleverly trying to recentre his party, which is identified as being on the left of the left. In an attempt to broaden his current base, he is rounding off the corners that are now considered too square.”
Mathieu Bock-Côté also explained in an interview this week that QS is trying to “combine its two lefts,” one more radical than the other. A journalist from La Presse explains in an article entitled “The crisis of maturity” that QS seeks to “confront its ideas with reality” without sacrificing its principles. Michel David of Le Devoir explains that “The political maturity that activists have shown is certainly a good omen” in a column entitled “The recentring of QS”.
These arguments are familiar. They are the same arguments that claim that “voters don’t want to hear about radical solutions”, and that “you have to moderate yourself to take power”, that you have to be “realistic” after all.
Recent history speaks against this idea. In the U.S., Bernie Sanders’ rise to popularity occurred precisely because he presented himself as a socialist and made a radical break with the status quo.
In Québec, already, a whopping 38 per cent of Quebecers want to move beyond capitalism according to a recent poll. That’s more than the CAQ received as a percentage of the vote in 2018! With a system in deep crisis, there is a thirst for change and the status quo is discredited. In spite of what professional opinion makers and has-been politicians say, the political centre is not popular—quite the contrary.
If Québec solidaire openly presented itself as opposed to the capitalist system and defended a socialist solution, the party could arouse enthusiasm among the huge part of the population which is being radicalized. As society continues to be mired in crisis, radical solutions will only continue to grow in popularity.
But more than the question of whether moderation can really make the party more popular, the question is whether it is really “realistic” to want to reform capitalism. Will QS be able to deliver on its promises once in power if it abandons the idea of overcoming capitalism?
The current situation within QS bears a striking resemblance to what happened in Greece with the rise of the radical left party Syriza. As Syriza moved closer to power, the leadership moderated the party program so as not to scare the banks and big business. Having come to power in January 2015 on a promise to end austerity, the party was forced by European bankers to impose even worse austerity than the preceding rightwing government. As the party had no intention of expropriating the banks and big business and thus breaking with capitalism, it had to submit to their blackmail. Syriza’s moderation did not change anything: the bankers were not going to tolerate an anti-austerity government setting a positive example for the rest of the working class in Europe.
This is what constantly happens to left-wing parties that come to power on a reformist program: if you want to manage capitalism, you end up being managed by it. The same thing happened to the French Socialist Party, to Bob Rae’s NDP, to the Greek PASOK, etc. We will say it again: a similar fate awaits Québec solidaire if the party does not prepare to overcome capitalism.
Although the more radical proposals were rejected at the congress, the party adopted a series of measures that make the right wing shudder: a 35-hour work week, a month paid vacation, higher taxes on the rich, the construction of 50,000 new social housing units, etc. The 55 per cent greenhouse gas reduction target also drew mockery from the CAQ and right-wing journalists like Bernard Drainville, who called it “delusional”.
Capitalists will fiercely resist the implementation of these reforms and will do anything to avoid paying for them. The only “realistic” option in this context, if we really want ambitious reforms to improve the lives of working people, will be to nationalize the big companies and banks, and implement a democratic plan of production. This is why we are so concerned about the retreat from the party’s anti-capitalist traditions, and the fight for a genuine socialist perspective in QS. The party must not become Syriza 2.0!
The fight for socialism continues
Socialist activists did not come away from the congress feeling demoralized. A quarter of the delegates supported openly socialist resolutions. This is a good start and we intend to continue our campaign to ensure that socialist ideas make their way into Québec solidaire and society in general.
There has never been a better time to defend these ideas. Everywhere we look, the capitalist system is showing its complete bankruptcy. In an era where we have more than enough wealth to meet everyone’s needs, rent is skyrocketing, homelessness is soaring, inflation is eating into our wages, and our education and healthcare systems, devastated by austerity, are collapsing. Big business is making the planet unlivable.
In this context, interest in a radical socialist solution can only increase. QS can be the voice of that growing part of the population that wants to change the system. But we need to organize ourselves to make socialist ideas more popular in Québec. Join us in this struggle!