Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Book Review: A History of Quebec Nationalism.

MIM once suggested that you could tell First-World 'Marxists' were pulling your leg by asking them why they think Canadians are a separate nation, but black people aren't (even though this was a Comintern line forced on the American communist party). I have considered this a very astute observation. It immediately reveals many things to anyone who is paying attention, the chief of which is that the National Question has almost no bearing on the political consciousness of White Nation "Leftists." It is as if to even consider black people belong to a separate nation is some sort of political sin, while White Nation "Leftists" just take it for granted that English-speaking Canadians belong to a different nation than themselves. It is as if they think there is such a thing as an 'American Nation', a delusion they share with the Democratic and Republican Parties alike.

MIM didn't write too much on the question, and it is evident they weren't terribly familiar with Canadian politics. But this one observation can and should be used as a jumping off point, to seriously explore the National Question in the North American context. MIM took the position that the Québécois are an Oppressor Nation, but freely admitted this was not a serious investigation into the issue. They even hint that whether or not they would support Quebec Nationalism was simply a strategic question when they say "If MIM thought separation could cause true disaster, we might support it." Clearly, MIM did not want to support the Nationalism of a European nation, even the Irish, but they were conflicted, as their position is clearly not a Marxist-Leninist one. The Right of Nations to Self-Determination applies to all nations, even Oppressor Nations.

While it is perfectly clear Lenin himself considered blacks a separate nation inside the United States (page 275), there are also hints that Lenin didn't think English-speaking Canadians formed a separate nation from white Americans. Both hints come from his Notebooks on Imperialism. Probably the most important hint is that Lenin read a book titled The Americanization of Canada, which was the PhD thesis of Samuel Erasmus Moffett, the nephew of Mark Twain. Moffett declares at the end of the book:

"The English-Speaking Canadians protest that they will never become Americans--they are already Americans without knowing it."
The first chapter of the book, where Moffett goes over the moving of Anglo-Canadians back and forth over the border, should be enough to convince any serious reader that his thesis is quite correct. If Lenin even read the first 20 pages of this academic diamond in the rough, then Lenin could not possible have believed Anglo-Canadians and white Americans belonged to two different nations.

The second hint from the Notebooks comes from Notebook Omicron. Lenin writes "The labour movement in Canada ("bourgeoisified")" (bold in the original) beside this passage from Die Neue Zeit:

"The skilled, and especially the English-speaking, part of the working class is completely bourgeoisified. It's conception of trade unionism is still wholly that of the old, narrow-minded English trade unions."
Here Lenin is not only quoting approvingly of the separation of English and French Canadians into two different groups, he also notes that the English-speaking 'workers' were already bourgeoisified at the beginning of the 20th century!

All this, I think, is a good Marxist-Leninist introduction to the book under review, A History of Quebec Nationalism by the journalist Gilles Gougeon. Gougeon himself introduces the book by referencing the breakup of the Soviet Union, possibly forshadowing to the reader what might be in Canada's own future due to Quebec Nationalism:

September 1991. I have to go to Samarkland, in Uzbekistan. After the failed coup against Gorbachev, the producers of Le Point are dispatching me to the Soviet Union to put together a series of televised reports on the emergence of democracy in the old empire of the Czars.

On September 5, I land in Uzbekistan, 3,500 kilometers southeast of Moscow, to determine whether or not the new Soviet revolution has spread beyond Russia. Far from Moscow, I have heard, the wellspring of democracy is being drowned out by nationalism. On my arrival in Samarkland, I secretly make contact with a colleague on whom I'm counting for an explanation of the local sociopolitical dynamic. "He'll be able to give you a sense of the situation," I'm told. "It's a fight for power among the Uzbeks, the Tajiks, and the Russians within an Asian culture and in an Islamic context."

First meeting. Alexander is waiting for me on a park bench. He gets up, shakes my hand, introduced himself and says something that I take to be a formality. The interpreter, taken aback, translates it for me: "So, is Quebec going to separate?"

More than 10,000 kilometers from Quebec, in a city that was on the legendary silk route and has known Tamerlane, Genghis Khan, and Alexander the Great, this man brought me back home with a jolt. In Samarkand I was being asked the same question that hundreds of people have asked me over the course of my reporting in Africa, Latin America, central Europe, Scandinavia, the Persian Gulf, western Europe, the United States, Canada, and Quebec."

Certainly a very pointed introduction!

While not being an expert on Canadian history, this books seems to do a splendid job of highlighting the National Question in Canada. At a mere 115 pages (including the bibliography), it reads like something out of Oxford's Very Short Introductions series of books. Probably the most disappointing aspect of the book for me was realizing it is just Gougeon interviewing various historians, some of whom are more interesting than others. I would have preferred a book written by a single author presenting their point of view, and I'm sure there would have been more footnotes to follow up on, as this slender volume contains very few references to outside material.

While all the interviews are informative for various aspects of the history of Quebec and the various nationalist thinkers throughout its history, the most interesting interview for me was with the historian Robert Comeau. Nearing the end of the book, I was already hungry for meater material to read, and only Comeau seemed to be pointing me in the right direction. Gougeon asks Comeau in the interview about the importance of the historian Maurice Séguin:

"I think that Maurice Séguin was the most controversial, the most misunderstood, and yet the most important historian of modern Quebec. I think that through his students, Maurice Séguin has been more influential than you can imagine...

He was getting ready for the separatist struggle and he went back to the essential point, which for him was the defeat of the Quebec people in 1760. He was obsessed by the problem of his nation. The way he experienced the tragedy of Quebec was absolute and excessive. He spoke passionately to us about what he saw as the main problem: that the Quebec people had been put in a minority position in a federal system. That, for him, was the essential form that oppression took.

What was striking in his thought was the emphasis he placed on the interdependence among political, economic and cultural factors. A people couldn't be culturally sovereign if it didn't have mastery of its political life. So he always drew out the links among economic, political and cultural factors and spoke of a people's need not ot be "displaced." He saw oppression as displacement. He believed that for individuals and peoples alike, acting on one's own, being autonomous, was a source of enrichment and experience."

There is more worth quoting from Comeau on the importance of Maurice Séguin, but I will leave it to anyone interested in obtaining a copy for themselves of the book. For me, this was the most important chapter on pointing the way forward in my own continued studies of the Quebec Nation, Quebec Nationalism, and the National Question in North America.

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