The International Communist League (ICL – led by the Spartacist League/U.S.) has recently repudiated the historic Leninist position on the national question which it defended and refined in the 1970s when it was still a revolutionary organization (see “The National Question in the Marxist Movement, 1848–1914” and “Lenin vs. Luxemburg on the National Question”). The Trotskyist League, Canadian section of the ICL, held a meeting in Toronto on 28 September 2017 entitled “Anglo Chauvinism and Canadian Confederation: For a Workers Republic of Quebec!” to defend this betrayal and their slide towards support for Quebec nationalism. The following is an edited version of comments made by an IBT supporter at the meeting in defence of the revolutionary position on the national question:
For Lenin, defense of a nation’s right to self-determination was a matter of principle, but whether or not to advocate the exercise of that right was a tactical question. Marxists call for independence if national antagonisms are so acute that they undermine working-class unity – it indicates a setback for class struggle. If it’s not necessary in order to clear the ground for class struggle, Marxists will even agitate against separation – that’s what Lenin argued in “The Right of Nations to Self-Determination.”
The Spartacist tendency used to embrace this class approach – in fact the Trotskyist League of Canada [TL] was founded on a program that defended the right of Quebec to separate, but didn’t advocate it because joint class struggle across national lines was possible.
In 1995, the TL abruptly came out for Quebec independence, claiming that “successful proletarian struggle demands separation into two independent nation-states” (Spartacist Canada, September-October 1995). History reveals the falsity of that statement – but at least the TL attempted to frame its position in Lenin’s class-struggle terms, arguing that independence was “the means to cut through the barrier which sets worker against worker along national lines, thereby laying a basis for bringing the decisive class questions to the fore” (Spartacist Canada, Winter 1997/1998).
In 1999, we debated the TL on the Quebec national question. The full transcript is reprinted in our pamphlet Marxism & the Quebec National Question. We won that debate by demonstrating that a “basis” for class unity did indeed exist, such as in 1978, when CUPW defied the government and went out on strike for five days, and in 1991, when PSAC struck. Since 1995, rail workers, postal workers and airline workers in Quebec and English Canada have all jointly gone out on strike – and the pattern is holding. The real obstacle is the reformist NDP and trade-union bureaucracy.
The ICL now explicitly rejects their original framework as reactionary and racist, and instead claims to be “in favor of Quebec independence, without preconditions” (Workers Vanguard, No. 1117). This is the position held by the Pabloites for 50 years – advocating Quebec independence is “unconditional” because separation is a necessary stage in the “revolutionary process.” This is not a tactical retreat, a negative step that Marxists are forced to take – it’s a timeless position raised to the level of principle. This is not Leninism.