Settler-Colonialism in Disguise: An Indigenist Critique of Québécois Nationalism

The following was originally penned by myself, Eaemaehkiw Thupaq Kesīqnaeh, and appeared on a persynal blog i used to run known as The Speed of Dreams. It first appeared in May 2011 under the original title Some Thoughts on the Québec Sovereigntist Movement. It is appears below more or less in its original form with only some minor edits and updates.

The Québec Sovereigntist Movement (QSM) and québécois nationalism in general have always stuck in my mind as odd during my years of interactions with so-called revolutionary forces in kanada, though until relatively recently i was unable to put my thoughts together on the issue in a coherent fashion. For my readers outside of kanada, or at least very unfamiliar with internal settler politics in kanada, the Québéc Sovereigntist Movement is exactly what it sounds like: it is a movement that seeks to establish a separate Republic of Québec on all or most of the current territory of the kanadian province of québec. It is rooted in the contradictions between the two dominant groups of settlers in kanada, the Francophones, concentrated mostly in québec, and Anglophones, who are dominant in the rest of kanada.

While i have in the past attempted to put my thoughts on the QSM down on paper (or rather to blog), two things have recently put it back at the forefront of my thoughts.

The first was about three weeks ago when a representative of a group called Réseau de Résistance du Québécois (a left-wing québécois nationalist organization) popped up on another site i involved in, asking for onkwehón:we  support for the Québec Sovereigntist Movement. The second, more recent, event was near total the obliteration of the Bloc Québécois in Monday’s federal kanadian elections.

Both of these events have lead me into recent discussions with other revolutionary minded anti-colonialists about the nature of the québec question in kanada. Now i find myself trying to coalesce my thoughts into one place. To that end i have broken my thoughts down into the three main areas that follow.

Québécois Nationalism & the Kanadian White “Left”

When i initially arrived on the scene in kanada one of the first things that struck me was how widely accepted it is by forces claiming to be revolutionary that québécois settlers form an oppressed nation in the same way that nominal amerikan communist tend to think of the captive Afrikan, Xikano and Borincano colonies*. For myself as an onkwehón:we revolutionary this immediately hit as bizarre. To me it seemed obvious that Québécois nationalism was a settler-colonial ideology. In my analysis Québec was functionally – historically and currently – little different than Anglo-Canada, however acceptance of the idea of Québec as an oppressed nation has the complete support of almost all of the alphabet soup of organizations that make up kanada’s White “left.”

The Trotskyite organization i first (and very briefly) was a member of, the NDP Socialist Caucus, is one such example – as is the next organization i time being a part of: the New Socialist Group. Both of them take up this line without question. The rest of the Trotskyite “left” follows suit; one only has to look at the programs or manifestos of the International Marxist Tendency’s Canadian-section (Fightback), the Socialist Project, Socialist Voice, the International Socialists etc to see this fact quite clearly. In fact during my involvement in Trotskyite organization my views on québec and wider-kanada as settler-colonies almost saw me as something of an internal exile. In fact i was denounced more than once as a “Pabloist” for my “anti-colonial deviations”.

However, while Trotskyites are often the most bold faced White “leftists” and First Worldists, the situation isn’t much better among those organizations claiming some variant of Marxism-Leninism. The ancient, long-time settleristic Communist Party of Canada promotes this idea. The ex-Hoxhist-come-Castroist Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist), better known by its electorally enforced name the Marxist-Leninist Party of Canada, is not better. Both recognize an oppressed québécois nation with the right to self-determination.

It goes without saying that most of the nominal “left” unique to québec itself (such as Réseau de Résistance du Québécois or the defunct Front de libération du Québec) see the québécois nation as oppressed and in need of a national liberation struggle.

While i certainly had kanadian settler leftist comrades who for this or that reason on an individual level did not buy into the whole québec-as-oppressed-nation complex, including at least one Trotskyite, they were few and far between and definitely exceptions to the general trend. It was not until i began interacting with kanadian Maoists that i encountered a settler left-wing movement  that took as its line that québec is not an oppressed nation.

However, it quickly became apparent that while we might come to similar conclusions about the Québéc Sovereigntist Movement as it exists today, the Maoists and i have sharply different reasons for reaching it. For these kanadian Maoists the québécois national-settler project is not supported because it is a dead one. The Revolutionary Communist Party, the largest settler Maoist organization, says on québéc that “as a nation, Quebec is no longer subjected to any form of oppression that would prevent its own development and would then justify––as some people still want us to believe––a national liberation struggle,” and that québéc “is not on the side of the dominated countries, but on the side of the dominating countries.”

So for the Maoists it’s a question of québéc only relatively recently becoming integrated within Kanadian and general quadrilateral imperialism. This is a process that they would most likely say began with the so-called Quiet Revolution, which saw the increase of québécois control over the province’s economy, which had previously been dominated by anglo-kanada. Prior to this the Maoists are willing to accept that québec was historically an oppressed nation.

Disagreeing on this point may seem benal to some, as we reach the same conclusion about the place of québec today, but for myself it is a matter of a correct materialist understanding of history. I disagree with their analysis of québécois history in particular because i take issue with the idea that québec was historically an oppressed nation. As materialists we must understand québec, like the rest of kanada, in relation to imperialism, White power, settler colonialism and development of the parasitic capitalist world economy. We must dissect the clearly parasitic, oppressive relations that the québécois nation has with onkwehón:we. Only then can we come to a true understanding of the origin and meaning of the Québéc  Sovereigntist Movement.

(My lack of discussing the perspectives of the kanadian anarchist movement is due in large part to my general lack of familiarity of the line of this or that anarchist organization in kanada on the “québéc question”)

Québécois Nationalism is not the Revolutionary Nationalism of an Oppressed Nation, It is the White Nationalism of Losing Colonizers

As i’ve said many times before, the principal contradiction within north amerika is the contradiction between oppressor and oppressed nations. Specifically this contradiction is between the settler north amerikan nation (which comprises at the very least the so-called United States & Canada) and the various onkwehón:we nations, as well as Aztlán, Borikén and the captive Afrikan nation.

This of course means that the principal struggle on the continent is the revolutionary anti-colonial struggles of colonized peoples against the colonial power. This is also a struggle that should be understood as a detachment of the wider global struggle against the current parasitic capitalist world system which is rooted in the contradictions between the exploiter core nations and the exploited peripheral and semi-peripheral nations.

On the contrary though the majority of the nominal settler “left” in kanada, as discussed above, would have you believe that québec is in fact part of the colonized, if not the prime colonized nation within the boundaries so-called “Canada.” This is primarily demonstrated through the recognition of onkwehón:we as nationally oppressed, but not possessing a right to self-determination up to and including separation from the settler entity. When self-determination for onkwehón:we nations is discussed it generally in the vaguest of terms – this is a problem with pretty much the entirety of the kanadian “left”. This however a right that is then granted to nominally oppressed québécois settler nation.

As was also mentioned already, i don’t think this is the case.

This is not to say that contradictions do not exist between anglo-kanadian and québécois settler populations, because contradictions do in fact exist between the two of them. However, the contradictions between anglo-kanada and the québécois are not the same as the ones that exist between colonizer and colonized. The contradictions are also not antagonistic, try as the FLQ might have in the ’70s to make them antagonistic. In fact, as the native québécois bourgeoisie has grown significantly since the 1970s, the contradictions between the two sectors of the White nation in Kanada have become less and less apparent as the anglo-kanadian bourgeoisie has made significant concessions to québec.

These contradictions that do exist are born of historic Anglophone chauvinism that dominated kanada for much of its history. This particular chauvinism is itself is rooted in the victory of the english settlers over their french counter-parts in the mid-1700s. However, Anglophone chauvinism does not make the québécois an oppressed nation in the same way that onkwehón:we, Xikanos, Borincanos or Afrikans are. The québécois settler population is, and always was, a junior partner in the project of building settler-colonialism in north amerika the development of the parasitic capitalist world-system.

Québécois nationalism is not revolutionary nationalism then, but reactionary White nationalism. It is a White nationalism that attempts mask itself in the revolutionary rhetoric of the oppressed nations. The particular White nationalism of the Québéc Sovereigntist Movement can best be understood as the ideology of a losing colonialism. The québécois did not arrive on this continent kidnapped and enslaved like Afrikans, nor were their lands stolen and people exterminated like what onkwehón:we, Xikanos and Borincanos experienced. The québécois, just like their hated rival, anglo-kanada, came to A’nó:wara Kawè:note with one goal in mind: to settle the land in the name of france, and expropriate the resources of the indigenous people in the pursuit of the french colonialist-imperialist project. The québécois settler project was established on this continent as parasitic and at the expense of the indigenous people from day one.

The contradictions that exist between anglo-kanada and the québécois are essentially the same contradiction that exists between all competing imperialist and colonial powers, though in this case they are located within the border of as single imperialist-colonialist state rather than between separate ones. All imperialist core nations compete amongst themselves to divide up the resources – both humyn and natural – and land of the oppressed among themselves. The struggle between anglo-kanada and the québécois is a precisely the struggle for control of land and resources that do not belong to either, and never will because they were stolen from onkwehón:we, who, despite the best efforts of both groups of settlers, are still here.

The truth is that the real revolutionary anti-colonial struggle in kanada is the struggle waged by onkwehón:we against imperialism, settler-colonialism and parasitic capitalism as well as the very existence of the anglo-kanadian and québécois states. Again, québécois nationalism is White nationalism, an ideology that is the product of a losing colonial project.

Returning to the earlier mentioned position of the majority of the nominal kanadian settler “left,” The fact that the settler “left” in Canada cannot, or refuses, to see that point shows where they truly lay in the alignment of forces on this occupied continent. It is tantamount to a direct admission of recalcitrant White nationalism on their part.

The Need to Dismantle Myth of a Historically Oppressed Québec

Finally, i would like to briefly discuss the need to refute the historical myth of québec as an oppressed nation, which is something i have already alluded to above. While i think it is quite easy to demonstrate that modern québec is an imperialist partner, in my experience, the idea that québec is an oppressed nation is not only a pugnacious one, but one that is based in a mythological reading of kanadian and québecois history, and the struggle against it is a key ideological struggle between those who are genuine anti-colonial revolutionaries and those who would propose settler-colonialism under another guise.

An example of this actually occurred quite recently. Recently, on another site edited by myself someone left a comment on the first article i had ever posted there, which was about the Oka Revolt. They were from the group Réseau de Résistance du Québécois, a “radical” and militant spin-off of the pro-québécois sovereignty magazine Le Québécois.

While i admit that my french is pretty poor i was able to understand that they were asking if “we” (onkwehón:we) would support the québécois national-settler project, or at least their vision of it. They said they respected our “warrior spirit” and that we would make a great addition to their cause.

In order to try and convince “us” of their case for an alliance between onkwehón:we and the québécois national-settler project they posted part of their program, specifically the part titled Aboriginal Affairs. To say the very least it painted a very rosy image of onkwehón:we-québécois relations, especially vis-à-vis the anglo settlers. If you were to believe the version of kanadian and québecois history put forth by groups like Réseau de Résistance du Québécois, then you would think that the québécois settlers and onkwehón:we lived in complete harmony – a french and Indian utopia broken up only by the machinations of anglo-kanada.

I told this person pretty bluntly that there version of history of was based on a lot of bullshit. It was made all the more interesting by the fact that they posted it on my 20th anniversary article about Oka, which spends its first portion outlining the fact that the québécois and onkwehón:we did not live in peace and harmony, and that the project of the québécois was only to displace and replace and onkwehón:we.

The fact is that groups like Réseau de Résistance du Québécois invent this fanciful version of history because it is propaganda for their cause. To recognize the real history of the québécois settler project with regards to onkwehón:we would be highly inconvenient for their efforts to portray themselves as an oppressed nation.

To me this demonstrated that while it is important and possible to demonstrate that québec in the world TODAY is fully integrated into kanadian and quadrilateral imperialism, the myth of québec-the-oppressed-nation is rooted in a mythologized reading of history, and that must also be drug out into the light. It becomes harder for a contemporary myth to be supported when the pedestal on which it is based it kicked out from underneath it.

Just as J. Sakai did for the amerikan working class in his underground classic Settlers: The Mythology of the White Proletariat, or Zak Cope did more recently for the general relations between core nation workers and imperialism in his magnificent Divided World, Divided Class, i believe it is necessary to expose the actual history and present trajectory of the québécois settler nation and the mythology-as-history that the québécois national-settler project and many sections of the anglo-kanadian settler “left” push. Unfortunately i am no historian and so i would leave it up to other comrades to take up this torch.

*It goes without saying that onkwehón:we rarely actually the enter the minds of either nominal amerikan or kanadian communists, even if they may provide lip service to our struggles.


9 thoughts on “Settler-Colonialism in Disguise: An Indigenist Critique of Québécois Nationalism

  1. I agree 100% Siusaidh. In fact when i was thinking about posting this article the other day one of the thoughts that came to my mind, though i did not bother to incorporate it into the article (perhaps i will at a later date) is that the assertion that there is a quebecois nation oppressed by the anglo-kanadian nation is much like claiming the existence of an afrikaner nation in Azania that is oppressed by the anglo-settler nation there.

    Both quebecois nationalism and afrikaner nationalism are reactionary White nationalisms, both are the ideological outgrowths of a colonizing oppressor nation that was subjugated by yet another (in both cases British in origin). Where i suspect the major differences lie are that i doubt (though i would accept correction) that the Azanian left in general does not accept the existence of an oppressed afrikaner nation, and that there is little mythology of a utopic past between afrikaners and indigenous Afrikans in Azania.

  2. Thanks for this article! This is very important topic to discuss in the Canadian left, as you rightly point out, too many organizations refuse to question Québécois nationalism.

    Coming from Québec, I can add that the problem is very entrenched. We are generally fed from our education system that not only were we an oppressed nation but that the French settlers have, at least compared to the Anglos, always been in harmony with the Indigenous. It makes it hard then for Québécois, when they radicalize, to gain another perspective than Québécois nationalism. As a result, radicals in Québec generally like to denounce imperialism and the genocide against the native population, but only in so far that it was committed by the English and the Americans. As for recent struggles such as Oka, they tend be ignored or overlooked.

    There is something I wasn’t convinced of in your article though. In the last part, you say you want to dismantle the myth of an oppressed Québécois nation, but then you don’t really go into detail about that, other than deconstructing the myth of harmonious relations between the French and Natives, which I see as something different I would have been curious to see your arguments, because I tend to think that there was actual oppression from the British colonizers against the French settlers. True, the French settlers might have been losing colonizers, and part of this oppression may be reinterpreted as inter-imperialist rivalry, but there was a major segment of the French Canadian population that lived under oppression, being subjected to a life of misery as poor peasants. It is true that the British used local collaborators, notably the Catholic Church, to carry out this oppression, but that’s the kind of thing the British did in most of their colonies.

    Though it must be said that these peasants had benefitted in the first place from colonialism and the clearing of Natives from the St-Lawrence Valley to get their own land, they became subjected to a system of oppression that led to their mass impoverishment and mass migration (between 1-2 left for the US), a situation often compared (by Québécois authors, to be fair) to that of the Irish under British colonialism. This situation was more or less resolved by industrialization, which gave an escape valve to impoverished peasants, but then for a long time the French Canadians became proletarianized (leading to birth of Québécois identity), while the capitalists were almost exclusively Anglo-Canadian and US American. This situation was paralleled in the function of the Québec state, which for the longest time served mostly the interests of Anglo Montreal and US capital, and let the Catholic church redistribute the crumbs. This was also reflected in a colonized mentality, which saw a lot of people in Québec accept the fact that as a people we were “born for the small piece bread”, the English were natural-born masters, etc. This mentality still persists among some of the most fervent federalist Québécois today.

    This is why Québécois nationalism became so central to radical politics in Québec. Québécois nationalism wasn’t simply from the start a petty-bourgeois nationalism that cloaked itself in revolutionary disguise to gain mass support. There were genuine revolutionaries, like those (not all) from the FLQ who became interested in it for its revolutionary potential and tried to develop it in the wider context of socialist revolutionary strategy. Some of them, pushing their reflections farther but also taking note of the evolution since the 1960s, even came to reject it as having any revolutionary interest, like the RCP you mentioned. But it remains difficult for most revolutionaries in Québec to see past this nationalism, and in order to understand this you have to understand where it’s coming from, and that is a very concrete situation of oppression of Québécois people under Anglo-Canadian domination. Now, I agree with the RCP (which, full disclosure, I am a member of) that today, this state of oppression has been replaced by an integration into the exploitative capitalist apparatus. Further, I would say that the mainstream discourse on the oppression of the Québécois people, from left, even when factually-based, is often vastly exaggerated, if not mythologic.

    This leads me to address another related topic which I find important to understand the current mentality of Québécois towards this question. Unfortunately, due to the fact that these ideas of Québécois oppression are so widespread even among the left, this means critical discussions are mostly limited to fringe circles, and even, in most cases, anglophone circles. This means that not only are they not accessed by the majority of Québécois radicals, but they are also automatically viewed with suspicion, as some sort of Anglo-bourgeois offensive to belittle the Québécois (playing on old stereotypes about their ignorance and village mentality) as well as to offload their own racism on to them (i.e., when G&M or CBC commentators or even comedians for example systematically denounce Québécois racism but fail to give a similar treatment to racism in English Canada). In short, I’m not trying to excuse Québécois racism, which exists and is far from being remotely appropriately dealt with by the left, but I want to emphasize that there are still lingering tensions between the Anglo-Canadian and Québécois nations that must be carefully understood to make this debate move forward.

    I’ll leave to this for now, I’d like to know your thoughts, hopefully this can be the start (or continuation, for all I know) of a fruitful debate on the contradictions of Québécois nationalism, which is a question that must be dealt with for the revolutionary movement to move forward in Canada. Thanks again for posting this!

  3. Posoh Paddy.

    Thanks for the comment. One thing i would point out though, as it might clear up any confusion, is that final segment of this all too short article was not an attempt to actively refute the mythology of a historically oppressed quebec, but rather to discuss the need for it, using my own experiences with left-in-form quebecois nationalists to give some context. That is why i close with stating the desire to see something done for kanada and quebec what Sakai did for the amerikan settler nation or what Zak Cope did for core and periphery.

    That said, i do believe there are some points to speak to.

    I do not doubt there were quebecois who were impoverished or who were oppressed (especially vis-a-vis anglo-kanadian chauvanism towards the french language and catholic religion). However, for myself the key has always been to understand quebec not just in isolation of its relationship first with the british empire and then with the independent anglo-kanadian nation, but more importantly, especially as far as Onkwehón:we Rising is concerned, its relations, both past and present, with onkwehón:we.

    From this later perspective it cannot be said that there was ever a relationship between the quebecois settler nation project and onkwehón:we that was anything but the relationship between a colonizing oppressor nation and a colonized oppressed nation. Fundamentally the quebecois nation is rooted in the continental genocide of its original inhabitants and current rightful owners, a relationship which lies directly at the core of the quebecois nation’s nature.

    This is why i would argue that groups like the FLQ’s projects were always fundamentally reactionary, irregardless of the presence of a handful of supposedly genuine revolutionaries among their ranks. The creation of any additional settler states in north amerika, which was in essence the FLQ’s goal, and no matter how socialistic/communistic/revolutionary their rhetoric, is at core reactionary because it is based on the theft of indigenous land and fundamentally liquidates the question of the original theft of the land and the large scale genocide of the people living there.

    Finally, to speak a little more to Siusaidh’s comment above, i think it is apt to draw comparisons between the quebecois and afrikaners. A good historical case can be made that the afrikaner settlers in Azania were oppressed by the anglos, especially after the Boer Wars (i grew up in Bermuda where there were large Boer War POW camps), however it would be absurd to speak of an oppressed afrikaner nation in the context of the afrikaner-Azanian relationship. Is the analogy 100%? Of course not, as most analogies are, but i think it helps illustrate the point.

  4. I love your article and I am a french Québécois. I agree profundly with your analysis. I share it. I also asked people to translate your article to french. I am also doing a tour on that topic and few others adressing our roles as colonizers in that history and also our responsabilities in that context in the battle against colonization.

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