Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois joins Quebec solidaire : Opportunities and challenges

The moment that everyone was waiting for has finally arrived: On Thursday, March 9th, Gabriel-Nadeau Dubois, the celebrated student leader from 2012, announced that he will be joining Quebec solidaire. He will be the candidate for the party in the riding of Gouin and also desires to become the male spokesperson for the party. He said he wants to get rid of the "political class" that has governed for 30 years and has "betrayed Quebec".

In the days following this announcement, 5,000 people joined the party, which represents an increase in the party membership of 50%. As well, the party has jumped from 9% to 14%, according to a recent poll in Le Devoir.  In the context of the world crisis of capitalism, continuous austerity measures, and falling living conditions, many people remember the fantastic student strike of 2012 and are looking to get involved to build an alternative to the rotten status quo. There is no doubt that workers and youth are enthusiastic about GND joining the party and want him to continue what the youth began in 2012.

The hysteria of the bourgeois media

It is not just people on the left who see GND as the re-embodiment of the spectre of 2012. The bourgeoisie and their spokespeople in the media have been spitting all of their bile and hatred on GND this past week. The wounds suffered in 2012 have obviously not healed.

Articles, each one more contemptuous than the next, were written about GND joining Quebec solidaire. Réjean Parent, the ex-president of the CSQ, and now columnist at the Journal de Montréal wrote:

“In the wake of his 'We need to talk' tour, for a moment I believed that the revolutionary student had acquired a certain pragmatism that would bring him onto a more realistic political terrain, but I was seriously misled. Worthy of the latent Marxist-Leninist tradition in Quebec solidaire, Gabriel has chosen to not compromise on his objectives, which he has elevated to the rank of principle...”

Denise Bombardier writing for the JdeM says that:

“QS has a vision that brings us back to a time when Stalin, Mao, Castro and their rivals were dragging their people to the brink of collapse.”

Another columnist at the JdeM, Michel Hébert, dumped all of his bile on the ex-student leader:

“Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois also relies on the needy. Perhaps he will succeed in making them believe that they are revolutionaries. This deception is what made the Bolsheviks succeed...”

Joseph Facal, the ex-Parti Quebecois member of parliament wonders what if GND will spare his party:

“The second question posed by the arrival of Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois is: will he criticize more the Couillard government or the PQ?

“He will no doubt answer: both.

“In fact, we are quite often given the impression that, in the past, QS activists hated the PQ more than the PLQ... For the extreme left, the moderate left has always been the main enemy, because it is the latter that has been blocking their way and marginalizing them.

“It has been this way since Marx and Lenin.”

If GND is under virulent attack from right-wing politicians and columnists, it is because they will never forgive him for 2012.

“The political class has betrayed Quebec”

The reaction of the PQ to GND is particularly interesting. Although, Jean-François Lisée has refrained from commenting on GND joining QS, the former party heavyweights did it for him. For them, GND's comments about the “political class” that “betrayed Quebec” are unacceptable.

Bernard Drainville and Bernard Landry felt particularly attacked by GND as they obviously do not like being put in the same basket as the Liberals. Landry asserted that GND “rudely insults René Lévesque, Jacques Parizeau, Camille Laurin and others.”

Drainville, from up on high in his new radio tribune expressed his frustration:

“I am very disappointed, and actually pretty angry, to read your statement this morning... I have been a member of the political class for the last thirty years. I gave 10 years of my public life to this! To be told by Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois that I “betrayed” Quebec... I am pretty pissed off. It was not necessary, Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, to start your official political career with QS with a statement like this.”

But we should never forget that it was René Lévesque's PQ that viciously used back-to-work legislation against public sector workers, that it was the PQ of Lucien Bouchard which began the race towards zero deficit, and that the PQ of Pauline Marois gave tax holidays to large corporations in addition to putting forward its own tuition fee hike. GND is right to put the "blues" in the same boat as the "reds".

The Liberals tried again to extract from GND a new condemnation of the violence of 2012. “If Quebec solidaire wants us to forget that Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois is still the one who has always refused to condemn the acts of violence of the red squares during the student conflict, Quebeckers will not forget it,” stated the communications manager for Philippe Couillard.

The reaction of the bourgeoisie and their many representatives should not surprise us. More than anything, the bourgeoisie has not forgiven GND for his role during the earthquake of 2012. They fear a repetition of these events; they fear that the masses will once again enter the political arena.

GND is also right when he says that people are disgusted with the status quo, and are fed up with the fact that “blue” and “red” bend to the interests of the bankers and large companies. But what do we really need to do to break with the status quo?

Our struggle is a class struggle!

We must admit that since 2011-2012, GND has diluted his political discourse considerably and is using increasing vague and confusing language. For example, in a very good speech given in October 2011, on the eve of the student strike, GND said:

“These people are few in number. These people control everything. They always want to control more. These people have common interests. These people have a common political project.

“There was a time, in Quebec, in Canada, not so long ago, that a minority like this, that controls the political and economic institutions of a country, that shares common interests, not so long ago we would call this a class.

“We need to stop being afraid of words. We must call these people by their name. These people are the ruling class. These people are the bourgeoisie.

“The struggle against the tuition increase, the struggle of those who are indignant all over the world must be called by its name. It is a class struggle.”

It was this clear and radical discourse that brought hundreds of thousands of students onto the streets 5 years ago. But today, the enemy we need to fight against has become the vague “political class” he referred to in his speech on March 9th. There is no reason to change the language that we use to describe the ruling class. As he said so well six years ago, “these people are the bourgeoisie.” Indeed, we must not be afraid of words!

In addition to this, we have seen GND backtracking on the statement he made when he declared that he was joining QS. After stating that the political class had “betrayed Quebec,” rather than defending this idea, he decided to bend to the pressure of the critiques: “When I speak about betrayal, it is not to say that nothing good ever happened in 30 years, and even less that all of the individual members of parliament have been traitors,” he stated on his facebook account. But what people remember about GND is the young radical student who did not apologize for defending Quebec youth and pointing to the finger at the elites, making the bourgeois politicians and columnists uneasy. According to a recent Le Devoir survey, 50% of Quebeckers agree with the idea that the political class has betrayed Quebec. We do not have to apologize for pointing the finger at the PQ and the PLQ for their direct role in the slow destruction of the gains of the working class of Quebec and there was no reason to back down on this point.

Similarly, we also saw GND on the defensive when he was asked several times to reiterate his position on the question of violence during the 2012 conflict. But what violence are the Liberals and their lackeys speaking of? The police violence that led to two activists losing an eye? The violence of the police that arrested 3,500 people? The pepper spray, the tear gas, the batons that were used to brutally attack the students? GND should be the one on the offensive and attack the establishment parties for their defense - be it active or passive - of this monstrous state violence.

The trap of “sovereigntist unity”

GND has repeatedly spoken about his “societal project.” However, up to now he has been quite short on details concerning this proposed project. In fact, GND's only real political proposal so far has been to merge with Option Nationale. We believe that this represents a step backwards.

Option Nationale is a tiny party which after having a certain attraction following the split with the PQ in 2011, has been reduced to political insignificance. The 0.7% of the vote that the party received in the 2014 elections testifies to the fact that the Option Nationale, which was the “flavor of the month” for a brief period of time following its founding, is now rather tasteless. According to the Le Devoir poll, the party has less support than the tiny Conservative Party of Quebec or the Green Party!

This move to merge with ON is dangerous because it means that QS will have to focus more on nationalist politics to the detriment of class politics. This is at a time when Quebeckers are turning away from this tired debate between the federalists and sovereigntists and are increasingly seeking class based solutions to the problems they face. Additionally, ON is clearly to the right of QS. When the party was founded, one of the reasons that they did not immediately join QS was that QS was “anti-capitalist.” As recently as 2016 ON leader Sol Zanetti appealed to ON founder, Jean-Martin Aussant to re-join the PQ in order to fight for his ideas. With friends like these...

As well, GND has continued with the same discourse about the possibility of “episodic” alliances with the PQ. Yet, GND speaks of the political class that has betrayed Quebec, “be they red or blue.” How then can we justify leaving the door open to an alliance with the “blues”? GND speaks of “differences” with the PQ, but without ever naming these differences. How can we convince the youth and workers of this idea without explaining it?

We have already explained that by leaving the door open to an alliance with the PQ, even if it is only “episodic,” and by emphasizing nationalist politics, QS is simply seen as the left-wing of the PQ. In order to move forward, we must be clear and break with the PQ once and for all.

The dangers of moderation

Unfortunately, the QS leadership has had the tendency over the past several years to moderate the party's discourse in order not to appear “too radical.” We believe that it is precisely the moderation of the message of the party that has led to the stagnation of QS in the polls. The past period in Quebec has been one of immense turbulence, political instability, mass movements, strikes etc... While workers and youth have been radicalizing and searching for ideas on the left, the watering down of the party’s message leads it to appear vague and not credible to workers and youth. This is the reason why QS wasn't able to canalize the palpable anger in society over the past years.

As for GND, despite the fact that he clearly stated that he is “on the left” and wants to help the “needy,” the only proposals he has put forward, besides the idea of a merger with ON, is to have a strong team, made up of important candidates outside of Montreal and within cultural communities. He also stated that he was inspired by the Bernie Sanders campaign – not for its political message and content, but for using new forms of activism and social media.

With this lack of concrete ideas and policies, GND keeps the vagueness of what QS stands for and frankly it is difficult to say who the party is really addressing themselves to. Even GND seems to be addressing himself to the political class, telling them that he will do things differently.

Who should we be addressing ourselves to? Instead of using the language of the political class, which couches everything in vague statements so that the masses cannot figure out what they are really up to, we need to speak using bold and clear language and address ourselves to the workers and youth. More and more, workers and youth are realizing that capitalism has no future to offer and are looking for an alternative to the system. Rather than offering vague language and a moderate inaccessible discourse, we need to address ourselves clearly to the working class, which makes up the vast majority of society, and give them an alternative to capitalism.

Similarly, without denying his actions in 2012, GND has explained that he has changed since then. “I was very good at explaining what I did not want. I am better today at saying what I want,” he told Guy A. Lepage on the popular show “Tout le monde en parle.” “I do not deny my involvement in the student movement. But yes, I have changed. I have grown to maturity,” he added.

This is a widespread idea in Quebec that protests and “radicalism” are the prerogative of the trade union or student movement, while we must be “moderate” and “mature” and  “less radical” in order to be involved in a political party.

As Amir Khadir made clear last year, the QS leadership believes that the radical label has been an obstacle for the party:

“We realize that there are significant obstacles in front of us, there was a perception (at the beginning) that we were radical. In fact, we are reformists. We are in the National Assembly because we accept the principle of reform.”

This perception that radicalism is an obstacle couldn't be further from the truth. GND has made several references to Bernie Sanders in the past week. However, he seems to be simply speaking about the methods of activism of Sanders and his supporters. But the more essential element was the content of the discourse of the senator and his clear language. In spite of the limits of his program and his perspective, it was this radical discourse that gave him his popularity – his identification as a socialist, his denunciation of the 1% and his call for a “political revolution against the billionaire class.” The success of Sanders clearly demonstrations the thirst for radical solutions. 

The simple entrance of GND onto the political scene was a coup for QS. People remember him as the student leader who unapologetically attacked the defenders of the status quo. The thousands of people who have joined the party and the thousands more who are eagerly looking towards GND and QS are doing so more because of his role in the past, rather than what he is saying today. This can give QS a boost for a period, but eventually people will demand some real content.

It is now important to revive the tradition of 2012, but on a higher level. If QS wants to become a force for workers and radicalized youth, it must adopt a clear class discourse, like the speeches of GND from 2011-2012. Only in becoming a voice and a vehicle for the working class can QS break its isolation and put an end to the domination of the bourgeois parties. In this process, La Riposte socialiste will be arguing in favour of a socialist program as the only one that can defeat the power of big business and austerity.

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