There is a crisis raging in Québec solidaire (QS). This is taking the form of the leadership going to war with the “Decolonial Antiracist Collective”. In the coming national council of the party on May 15-16, the national coordinating committee (CCN) of the party will vote on a censure motion containing a thinly veiled threat to decertify the collective. However, this is only a smokescreen to justify passing a restrictive “ethics code” which will make it more difficult for party activists to criticize the leadership and elected members of the Quebec national assembly.
An attack on the genuine democratic traditions of QS
Québec solidaire was founded as a fusion of various left-wing groups in 2006. Because there were so many socialist and feminist groups which were brought together, a fundamental concept was that, contrary to a party like the NDP, there would be democratic rights for different groups to argue for their positions, both internally and externally.
In the party statutes we read: “Québec solidaire is pluralist, which means that it allows for the participation and expression of a variety of individuals, groups and viewpoints.” In the section on the rights of members we find “the party recognizes the right of any member, body or collective to express dissent, both within and outside the party.”
This approach is a breath of fresh air when compared with the stultifying atmosphere found within a party like the NDP, where the leadership has historically gone to war with any organized dissent going all the way back to the Waffle in the 1960s and ’70s.
However, in the new ethics code, we now read that it is the duty of party members to “protect the reputation of the party and the elected officials.” The clampdown on dissent will not be good for anyone and will effectively kill the pluralist traditions of Québec solidaire, making it not fundamentally different from the NDP in this regard.
This is being proposed in tandem with a “conflict resolution policy” which reads like something the HR department at a big corporation would write. However, QS is not a company but a political organization, where political conflict is inevitable and not everyone is going to get along. While it would be normal to have a code of conduct for situations where abuse or harassment have taken place, this document isn’t really about that and only speaks vaguely about “conflicts.”
Under the guise of “fostering an inclusive and respectful climate for debate and collective work,” this is really a bureaucratic clampdown. For example, the “sanctions” section of the conflict resolution policy says that in “serious and exceptional situations where behaviour undermines the dignity and integrity of others or the values of the party as defined in the Code of Ethics…” the executive committee will be able to “revoke membership and associated rights.” This is of course upon the case being looked into by an ethics committee which is appointed by… the leadership itself.
All party members should oppose this restrictive clampdown which is an attack on the genuine democratic traditions of QS.
How did we get here?
While the current situation may be shocking for many people, this clash has been a long time coming.
The overarching issue was the “debate” over “religious symbols” and “secularism” that grew during the decade following the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This so-called debate was nothing but a smokescreen for the racist media offensive against Muslims. Suddenly, without any evidence ever being raised, the media and politicians sounded the alarm about the secular nature of the Quebec state supposedly being threatened by Muslim women and their religious symbols. Of course, this was a red herring brought forward to distract and divide. Anyone claiming that this was simply a debate on the neutrality of the state is willfully ignorant.
But, being left nationalists, the leadership of Québec solidaire made a series of major political errors on that issue. They bent to the rise in identitarian nationalism on many occasions for fear of losing votes—a form of electoral opportunism that was never going to work, as anyone looking to vote for nationalist reasons was always going to vote for the CAQ as subsequent history would verify.
As an army of right-wing journalists at Quebecor used their stranglehold on the Quebec media to fabricate a false debate on “reasonable accommodation” and “secularism,” the leadership of Québec solidaire bent to the pressure and lent credence to this “debate”, being unable to take a firm position. At the end of the day, this was bound to put them on a collision course with anti-racist activists in the party who became increasingly upset with the party’s approach.
This was the case where they failed to oppose the PQ’s “Charter of Quebec values” in 2013, instead proposing their own version which also contained provisions infringing on religious liberties. When the Quebec Liberals hypocritically passed a similar law in 2017, the QS members of the legislature restricted their critiques of this law to its “inapplicability,” instead of pointing out its clear Islamophobic nature.
To top it all off, when the CAQ rode to power by surfing this wave of identitarian nationalism, the leadership of QS consistently attempted to find a “compromise” on the question of banning certain state employees from wearing religious symbols.
The leadership of the party took these positions and defended them publicly in spite of the fact that the membership never had a chance to debate the party’s approach. The party program was clear enough on this question: “The state is secular, not the individuals.” This clearly violated the most elementary principles of party democracy.
While this racist, Islamophobic “debate” continued unabated with virtually no opposition, thousands of people demonstrated in Montreal on multiple occasions. Québec solidaire, which was born as a “party of the streets and the ballot box”, was completely absent in any organized form. Party spokesperson Manon Massé even went out of her way to specify that “I don’t think Mr. Legault is a racist man and I don’t think the CAQ is racist.” This was a day before a large anti-racist demonstration following the election of the CAQ in 2018.
While early on, anti-racist activists would have found a natural home inside QS, relations clearly became strained as the leadership plotted a course opportunistically bending to the identitarian nationalist wave. Many activists developed an extreme distaste for the party leadership who never admitted error and never apologized for essentially providing a left cover for this racist discussion. Many people quit the party over the years due to this mistaken approach.
Thankfully, a rank-and-file revolt at the March 2019 national council of the party overturned this horrible approach. The delegates overwhelmingly voted against any discrimination of the state against religious minorities.
In addition to this, there were a series of errors by QS MNAs. Most notably, Émilie Lessard-Therrien, QS MNA for the riding of Rouyn-Noranda–Témiscamingue, made a statement denouncing Chinese “predators” who were buying agricultural land. When challenged on this point, she said, “A fallow field always has the potential to be cultivated again, but a land that belongs to China may never feed Quebecers again”.
Besides this being a bad position for a left-wing party to take, this is also factually incorrect—as was attested to by the Union of Agricultural Producers, which said that “Our concern is much more about Quebec investment companies buying up the lands, and much less about foreign investors.” They also emphasized that “We have no information presently that would indicate there are massive land purchases going on by foreign investors in Quebec.”
This sort of thinking flows directly from Québec solidaire’s nationalist outlook. On the question of food, they argue for “food sovereignty,” which seems to agree in the main with the CAQ government who launched the Panier bleu initiative last year. This is akin to a “Quebec first” economic policy prioritizing Quebec businesses.
The statements by Lessard-Therrien were denounced by Chinese associations in Montreal. Instead of admitting that this was an error and committing not to do this again, the leadership doubled down, offering a defensive half-apology. Alexandre Leduc, QS MNA for Hochelaga, even made comments on Facebook criticizing a demonstration against this Sinophobic statement.
Understandably, this incident contributed to weakening trust in the party leadership among a large layer of activists both inside and outside the party.
There was also the party leadership’s cold attitude towards Hawa Eve Torres, the first veiled woman to run in a Quebec provincial election. When Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois held an event at the Université de Montréal (situated in the riding where Eve was running) during the last election, she was not only not invited to speak, but was not even recognized as the candidate at the event, even though she attended it! In a separate instance, according to QS founding member Sibel Epi Ataoğul, the party leadership, when searching for a candidate to replace Amir Khadir in Mercier, were also opposed to having a candidate wearing a hijab.
There is also the general phenomenon where the leadership remains conspicuously silent on certain issues but not on others. For example, when TVA fabricated a story about a mosque requesting that no female construction workers work near their establishment, Nadeau-Dubois was quick to denounce the mosque. When it had become clear that it was a fabrication (verified by the mosque and the construction company), the leadership was slow to act, offered no apology and the above tweet was never taken down.
When NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh called Bloc Québécois MP Alain Therrien “racist” for blocking a motion denouncing systemic racism in the RCMP and making a contemptuous gesture towards him, QS was conspicuously silent. This was in spite of the fact that the right-wing nationalists were framing this as an attack against “all of Quebec.”
And last year when the mass movement erupted after the killing of George Floyd, QS put forward a resolution in the Quebec legislature denouncing systemic racism. When this met with opposition, they agreed to amend the resolution to remove the word “systemic,” basically capitulating to the right-wing nationalists who argue that racism is simply an individual matter.
Is this the type of thing that QS members will have to refrain from criticizing, in order to “protect the reputation of the party and the elected officials”? Party activists should view the discussion on the “ethics code” and the “conflict resolution policy” not irrespective of time and space, but in the context of a long history of the party leadership making fundamental errors and party activists and collectives having to pressure them through criticism, both internal and external, to correct these errors.
The poisonous role of identity politics
One of the results of these negative experiences was the creation of the Decolonial Antiracist Collective (CAD) in 2019. Indeed, the people who founded the CAD, and went on to play the dominant role, were some of the main activists who mobilized against and succeeded in overturning the position of the leadership with regards to discrimination against religious minorities.
While there was a real desperate need for an organized fight against the nationalist leadership, unfortunately the CAD became mired in a type of toxic academic identity politics all too common on the left today.
This was clearly shown by one of the key events in this fight when the CAD shared a tweet from the infamous University of Ottawa professor Amir Attaran. Commenting on the fact that the CAQ refuses to recognize systemic racism, Attaran denounces the Quebec nation for being racist and complains that the Quebec people elected a “white supremacist” government. Far from fighting the right-wing nationalists, who are racists, his stupid tweets are a gift to them as they then are able to rally all Quebecers to fight this “Quebec bashing.” The identity politics of Attaran are merely the other side of the coin of the identitarian nationalism of the CAQ, and to share his words does not advance the fight against racism one iota.
This of course enraged the party leadership, who publicly came out distancing themselves from the CAD and sent an internal message to all of their members about this. Many people correctly point out the difference in the leadership’s harsh treatment of the CAD compared to the infamous “Secular Collective”, who made repeated Islamophobic statements publicly with impunity. Everyone knows that this is because the party was opportunistically bending to the identitarian nationalism peddled by the other parties.
What this conflict has demonstrated above all else is the complete bankruptcy of identity politics, which is present in different forms on both sides of this conflict. As many of the above errors were made because of the nationalist outlook of the QS leadership, this has only exacerbated and reinforced the identity politics criticism of the CAD which has largely centred on the fact that the leadership is mostly composed of white people.
Since its foundation, the CAD has been in constant conflict with the national coordinating committee. Unfortunately, their criticisms have largely focused on the identity of representatives of the party, regardless of the politics they defend. This was in spite of the fact that the entire experience of the debate on “secularism” showed us that the three most well-known racialized people in the party—Ruba Ghazal, Andres Fontecilla and Amir Khadir—had all supported what was essentially a compromise with Islamophobia, while two white people from Quebec City—Sol Zanetti and Catherine Dorion—came out against any discrimination.
This example shows how this focus on identity is a problem. This is most notably demonstrated by this situation where the National Indigenous Commission, which was established by CAD activists, is now supporting the censure motion against the CAD. This means that you have Indigenous activists denouncing the Decolonial Antiracist Collective! There was also a letter signed by many racialized QS activists denouncing the CAD. This has allowed the leadership of the party to leverage its own identity-based arguments, saying that the CAD “does not speak for all racialized people”. A more clear example of the swamp that is identity politics could not be imagined.
There are racialized people on both sides of this debate—so who is right? The right-wing shift of the leadership and their concessions to identitarian nationalism cannot be fought with identity politics, but need to be fought with revolutionary class politics. We need to revive the best traditions of the Black Panthers and Fred Hampton, who said: “We’re going to fight racism not with racism, but we’re going to fight with solidarity. We say we’re not going to fight capitalism with black capitalism, but we’re going to fight it with socialism.”
Defend party democracy—fight for socialism!
QS was founded as a democratic organization with the members determining the party program and general approach of the party to various questions. However, the actions of the leadership certainly endanger this tradition. The censure motion brought against the CAD was conveniently sent just two weeks before the national council and only after many riding associations had met and elected delegates. As this conflict has been brewing for a long time, it is hard to believe that this was not intentionally done to make sure that there is no grassroots mobilization to elect delegates against this motion. On top of this, the item will be discussed for all of 45 minutes before being voted on. While some members are claiming that this really isn’t a big deal, the motion talks about “reviewing” the CAD’s status as a collective as its last point.
As for the ethics code and the conflict resolution policy, they are not amendable and will be subject to a simple up-or-down vote. This is quite obviously being done to make sure that they are rammed through, as most people will probably think that it’s best to have an ethics code rather than not have one.
What we are witnessing is the solidification of bureaucratic control and the elimination of political opposition to what is frankly an opportunist party regime. These restrictive measures, if allowed to take root, will be used against any organized opposition to this party leadership.
This clampdown on dissent within the party should not be surprising. As a parliamentary party vying for power in a capitalist state, the leadership of QS and especially the parliamentary wing come under direct pressure from the bosses and their state.
Ever since the creation of the party as an anti-capitalist formation, there has been a strong tendency of the leadership to moderate the party’s political positions and messaging in order to seem more “reasonable.” This was seen at the 2019 congress when the party abandoned its long-standing opposition to “market-based” solutions to the environmental crisis.
This is summed up in an article published in L’aut’journal, titled “Québec solidaire after 15 years, a ‘middle ground’, to the left, yes, but moderate.” In this article, a founding member of the party, Renaud Blais, states very clearly what this conflict is about: “These few people use every possible strategy to ‘inseminate’ into the party program lines exposing their extreme ideology, (against patriarchy, for anti-racism, anti-capitalism and intersectional considerations, etc).”
For those party members who naively think that this conflict with the CAD is only an isolated conflict, think again. In a recent article in Le Devoir, titled “QS is not out of the woods yet,” the author talks of how the party is a “nest of vipers” that has been “infiltrated” by radical left groups like the Ecosocialist Network, which fights for the “end of capitalism and the laying of the foundations of a new society.”
This accusation that the party has been “infiltrated” is ridiculous considering that this article quotes two founding members of the party. In a certain sense the article is correct, though. The party has been infiltrated—not by the radical left, but by a professional clique of reformists who are working to eliminate the anti-capitalist and radical traditions of QS piecemeal.
Indeed, it is an open secret that with Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois joining the party in 2017 as a saviour, the leadership of the party has profoundly changed and veered even more towards moderation. Moreover, as was detailed in an article in L’actualité, when GND joined the party in 2017, he brought with him an entourage, known as the “G8”, many of whom now occupy important posts within the party. According to GND himself, they are his inner circle which he consults with “about everything before I make a decision.” Is this an organized collective? Are they elected? Do the members of QS know that this is going on? While the radical left in the party is being accused of “infiltration,” the real infiltration which has taken place right before our eyes is obscured.
Indeed, while the QS programme since the very early days talks of “going beyond capitalism,” this very idea is now more openly being attacked. In an article published on the left-wing website Presse-toi à gauche, titled “Overcoming preconceived ideas”, Jean-François Delisle, a longtime QS activist, attacks the very idea of going beyond capitalism.
He says: “No indeed, Québec solidaire is not communist but simply social-democratic because the social, political and cultural conditions in Quebec and North America do not allow it to go further.”
This is simply the same song and dance that all left-wing parliamentary parties all over the world have played: moderating themselves, accepting the capitalist system, and in order to do so, repressing all opposition internally. This is the overarching process taking place within the party which has led to the current conflict.
As is often the case, the same push to moderate the party’s economic program also comes with a justification of the opportunist bending to identitarian nationalism. Delisle’s article, which is a reply to a left-wing critique of the QS leadership bending to identitarian nationalism, states: “No one can rule innocently, even at the head of an opposition party. Gaining the support of as many PQ and CAQ voters as possible is a necessity and requires certain strategies if Québec solidaire wants to get closer to power, the only way to really change things, to correct at least some of the injustices and to give power to workers.”
Delisle ends his article by paraphrasing the French philosopher Albert Camus, saying that “the best we can hope for is the least bad distribution of injustice possible”. All ideas of a fundamental transformation of society laid out in QS’s program are thrown out the window in the name of the “least bad distribution of injustice possible.” How inspiring!
Here we see the reformist logic in all of its glory. What is “possible” here is clearly what is possible within a capitalist framework. And this is precisely the problem. Capitalism is in a deep economic crisis, only being buoyed up through unprecedented state corporate welfare. This cannot last forever and when the delirium caused by the pandemic wears off, the capitalists will shift their focus back to balancing the books sooner or later—and this will be done on the backs of the workers and youth. This will ultimately mean attacks on wages and working and living conditions.
This reformist trajectory of QS which seeks to make the party “realistic” is dangerous because it essentially is about disarming the party in the face of the capitalist onslaught. This was seen with Syriza in Greece, which was forced to capitulate and do the capitalists’ bidding. This has occurred time and time again with social democratic labour parties taking power and betraying the working class.
This is why the Marxists of the International Marxist Tendency, a recognized collective within Québec solidaire, will be voting against the censure motion, the ethics code and the conflict resolution policy and we recommend for other delegates to do the same.
We also fight against the opportunism of the party leadership with a revolutionary socialist program. This is why we also have an amendment which will be voted on at the upcoming national council meeting titled “Fight against the capitalist system and defend a socialist solution.” We firmly believe that this is the only realistic program, if QS is serious about actually fighting for a better society. We also believe that this is the only way to enthuse and mobilize the workers and youth who are looking for a bold revolutionary alternative to the capitalist crisis.