Quebec Nationalism in the 1960s

Document 2: Pierre Trudeau, 1964

Lee Slinger (Translation)

Source: Trudeau, Pierre. <<Les séparatistes: des contre-révolutionnaires>> Cité libre, 15, no. 67 (May 1964): 2-6.

“The Separatists: Counter-Revolutionaries”

By Pierre Elliott Trudeau

We are against those leaders who are on the left and who hide behind Marxist-Leninist ideology, but who, in fact, represent chauvinism. … They now offer a reactionary thesis that is based on a union of peoples based on racism and nationalism.

(N. Krushchev, La Presse, April 10, 1964)


I – The Dictators

I work myself up into a lather whenever I hear our nationalist mob claim to be revolutionaries. It conceives of the revolution as a profound upheaval, but forgets that this also characterizes the counter-revolution.

Fascism and Nazism disrupted quite a few things. Notably, they replaced democratic institutions with a totalitarian system. It is true that the democracies of Victor-Emmanuel III and the Weimar Republic were hardly fantastic successes. Parliamentary democracy had only shallow roots in Italy and Germany after Versailles, the idea of a Liberal State having been accepted slowly in these nations, one of which had long been under the control an authoritarian Catholicism, and the other, which had developed under Prussian militarism. At the level of the State, inefficiency and corruption were rampant and the government often seemed incapable of moving from deliberation to action.

But nonetheless the idea of liberty was honoured, in these democracies. A large number of citizens still believed that a rational political order should be directed by open discussion instead of a fanatic refusal of dialogue, that it should be founded on consensus instead of intolerance, that it should be installed through elections rather than secrecy and violence.

Of course liberty is often less effective than authority, as a short-term organizational principal. Reason is less persuasive than emotion as a motivator of people. This is why the progress of democracy was slow in these countries. And so, other men came on the scene who told themselves that they were in the clear possession of political truth. This obviously spared them from having to seek it out through the public fora that democracy provides. As soon as they could, therefore, they replace parliamentarianism with so-called direct democracy; they abolished opposition and installed a single political party; they assassinated liberty and enthroned dictators. Thus all of this was done in the name of the nation, whose rights were superior to those of the individual, of course, whether that individual was an alien national, a Jew or simply a dissident.

These dictators were named Hitler and Mussolini. There were others named Stalin, Franco and Salazar. It is undeniable that they all pretended to be in service of the destinies of their respective national collectives; moreover, three of them were called socialists. But who would dream of defining the whole of their work as revolutionary? They disrupted a large number of institutions and may have opened the way for some material progress, but they abolished the individual freedoms or at least prevented them from developing; this is why history categorizes them as counter-revolutionaries.


II – Liberty

So I work myself up into a lather whenever I hear our nationalist mob claim to be revolutionary. The revolution in Quebec, if it had taken place, would first have consisted of freeing citizens stultified by retrograde and arbitrary governments, of freeing consciences bullied by an obscuring and clericalized church, of freeing workers exploited by an oligarchic capitalism, of freeing men crushed by authoritarian and outdated traditions. The revolution in Quebec would have consisted of the triumph of the freedoms of the human person as inalienable rights, as a counter to capital, as a counter to the nation, as a counter to tradition, as a counter to the Church, as counter even to the State.

Yet this revolution never happened. Of course there have been men in Quebec who have worked towards it, and who have encouraged liberty and democracy over the past hundred years. But, in the end, the collective has always reduced them to powerlessness: interdictions from the Church against an Asselin or a Buies, proscriptions from the race against a Rabinovitch or a Roncarelli, arbitrariness of the state against a Picard or a Guindon, batons of policemen against strikers in Asbestos or in Louiseville.

Towards the year 1960, one might have nonetheless believed that freedom would triumph in the end. Since 1945, a series of events and movements combined to jettison the traditional understandings of authority in Quebec: the post-war upheavals, the Refus Global, Asbestos, the unions, the judicial victories of Frank Scott and Jacques Perrault, Cité Libre, the defeat of the Union Nationale, to give only a few disparate examples. So much so, that the generation that entered its twenties in 1960 was the first in our history to have shared in almost complete freedom. The dogmatism of the Church, of the State, of tradition, of the nation had been defeated. Authority had retaken the place that is should have in a free regime. A notary could preside over the Secular Movement without losing his clients. Professors could say, “No to the Jesuits,” without being excluded from the university. Actors and filmmakers could adhere to Marxist beliefs without being fired by the State’s boards. Students could try to impose their views on their educational institutions without being shown the door. The Family itself had lost its power over young men and young women.

In 1960, anything was possible in Quebec, even revolution. It is entirely possible that it would not have been necessary, so wide open were the corridors of power to those who could master the scientific and technical knowledge of the day: automation, cybernetics, nuclear sciences, economic planning, and I don’t know what else. A whole generation was finally free to use all of its creative force to bring this little backwards people up to date, up to speed with the rest of the planet. All that was needed was audacity, intelligence and effort. Alas! Freedom proved to be too heady a wine for the French-Canadian youth of 1960. They had but tasted it when they rushed, as quickly as possible, to find a more reassuring milk, some new dogmatism. They blamed my generation for not having provided a “doctrine” – we who had spent most of our youth destroying servile doctrinarianism – and sought refuge at the breast of their mother, Saint Nation.

As I wrote to a friend, recently: for a religious sectarianism, we have a substituted national sectarianism. The separatist devout and the other grovelers at the Temple of the Nation are already pointing the finger at non-believers. At the same time, many non-believers find it advantageous to join them in celebrating their nationalist Easter, hoping to access positions at the priestly and episcopal, or even pontifical, levels and to thus be authorized to lead prayers, to circulate directives and encyclicals, to define dogmas and pronounce excommunications, with the confidence of infallibility! Those who do not have access to the priesthood can hope to become churchwardens, as a reward for services rendered; at least they won’t mind when Nationalism becomes the state religion.


III – Neo-clericalism

The new clerical party, which already has its popes and its nuncios, has just found its Torquemada. The counter-revolution must have its little Inquisition, mustn’t it? Otherwise what would be the point of those registers of the blacklisted, which have circulated since goodness knows when? I was disappointed to hear that François Hertel had volunteered for this task. I would not have believed that that man, whom I had long respected for having demonstrated the rare courage to reject conformity, would have ended up as the church mouse in the Separatist Chapel.

And now from Paris, out of reach of our penal laws but of not our contempt, he writes: “Assassinate for me one of our own traitors. That would be good work. Deliver from existence, for example, where he seems to be so bored – that poor Larendeau…” Et cetera. To address such words to a public that readies itself to sacrifice all of its values – and particularly individual freedoms and security of the person – to the idol of collectivism, and that has already begun to mistake terrorists for heroes and martyrs, is a dangerously irresponsible act.

But the height of irresponsibility is to publish this text in the Quartier Latin (April 9, 1964) as an “extraordinary document”; together, in fact, with other documents which incite assassinations. Though I should have expected nothing less from the editor of a newspaper who finds a single-party system to be an acceptable path for the Quebec of tomorrow.

Especially since the same editor, in this same student newspaper two years ago, had presented another “document” on the freedom of the press that demonstrated exactly how little he cared about this freedom. I allude to the article by Mr. Gérard Pelletier and the freedom of the press, where Professor Jean Blain writes: “In the name of the freedom of the press, he (Pelletier) refused me that of expression.” Yet this is false. As Le Devoir of April 8th said, Pelletier had offered Professor Blain the opportunity to publish his article, in full, as opinion piece in La Presse; it was the professor who refused. Le Quartier Latin could have confirmed this fact if it had had any regard for one the basic principles of justice: audi alteram partem. But a certain Goebbels has already shown us that justice and truth count for little when dealing with an overdetermined nationalism.

As to the root of the Pelletier-Blain dispute, what can I say to people who have never read John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty? “The beliefs which we have most warrant for have no safeguard to rest on, but a standing invitation to the whole world to prove them unfounded.” We cannot demand freedom of speech if we are indifferent when public debate and the free exchange of ideas, both important means of arriving at political truths, are pushed aside; they are indivisibly linked. Yet Parti Pris, as Professor Blain (op. cit.) said himself, is based on the “refusal of dialogue.” For his part, in the latest Cité Libre, Pelletier has highlighted the totalitarian thinking of Parti Pris. And just to be sure, in the April edition of this counter-revolution publication, on page 51, they confess that “there is a necessary totalitarianism.” (This article was looking to pick a fight with me, it would seem. But not based on my ideas, as they recognized the appropriateness of the title, “totalitarian”: on the size of my wallet! Honestly! The motives of this revolt are seriously lacking in disinterest…)

But there are not only students, those petty bourgeois of tomorrow, to embrace the counter-revolutionary sectarianism. Naturally, there is also the petty bourgeois of today. Mr. Jean-Marc Léger has always had the courage and the conscience of his nationalism – and I would not say as much about those who eyed him scornfully from above fifteen years ago and who now have come around to his thinking because they want to be “loved by the youth.” At the Saint-Jean-Baptiste conference, Mr. Léger advocated for “the creation of a climate of national fervour in schools.” And to that end, “francophone parents should be forbidden from registering their children at English institutions in Quebec” (Le Devoir, March 16, 1964). Obviously, this neo-clerical thinking was well received by our newspapers. Nobody seemed bothered that education in Quebec would pass from religious confessionalism to obligatory linguistic confessionalism.

It is remarkable, furthermore, that the only case in a long time by which French-Canadian public opinion has been moved on account of a threat to individual freedoms, was the Coroner’s Law. Yet, this law has been part of our provincial statutes for over forty years and served to shore up the freedom and the dignity of innumerable poor devils, including obviously many French-Canadians. But it wasn’t until the sons of the petty bourgeoisie, in the service of a petty-bourgeois ideology, fell victims to it that our intelligentsia and our professional classes joined in the fray, raising a hue and cry for reforms.


IV – Persecution

Progress for humankind is navigating the slow road towards greater freedom of the person. Those who are responsible for any sudden reversals along this path are by definition counter-revolutionaries.

There are, of course, historical situations when the freedom of the person were for all intents and purposes not protected by the established institutions; it is therefore possible that an authentic revolutionary could emphasize collective freedoms, as a preamble to individual freedoms: Castro, Ben Bella, Lenin …

But when individual freedoms do exist, it is inconceivable that a revolutionary should destroy them in the name of some collective ideology or another. For the very goal of the collective is to better ensure individual freedoms. (Otherwise, it is fascism…)

That is why, in Quebec today, we must speak of counterrevolutionary separatists. Of course, freedoms of the person have not always been highly valued in Quebec. But, I repeat, we were almost there around 1960. Thanks to English and Jewish advocates (oh, yes!), thanks to the Supreme Court in Ottawa, individual freedoms had eventually triumphed over the obscurantism of Québecois legislators and the authoritarianism of our tribunals. (See Cité Libre, April 1962, p. 12, no. 27). Thanks to the diverse movements and events I referred to above, there wasn’t a sector in Quebec in which individual freedoms of all kinds weren’t progressing, and where censorship, interdictions, authoritarianism, clericalism, and dictatorship were not clearly retreating.

Yet here we are today and there isn’t a week that goes by without a handful of separatist students coming to tell me that they are against democracy and in favour of a single-party system, that is, in favour of a kind of totalitarianism and against individual freedoms. They are, in this way, in the purest league with that which our society has always produced of most monolithic, most retrograde. They want our population to return to a siege mentality.

At the heart of it, the separatists despair of ever being able to convince the people of the justice of their ideas. This long work in educating and persuading the masses, that the unionists took up several decades ago, that the Ralliement créditiste has done for the past thirty years, the separatists have neither the courage, nor the means, nor above all the respect for the freedoms of others that would be necessary to undertake this project and to succeed.

Thus, they want to abolish liberty and impose a dictatorship on the minority. They are in tranquil possession of the truth, and everyone else should just get in line. And when this does not happen fast enough, they have recourse to illegalities and violence. On top of this, they say they are persecuted.  Oh, the poor dears! There are many of them in our newsrooms. They are spreading through Radio-Canada and the National Film Board; they are weighing down the mass media with all their weight (?), but they still find the place assigned to them by society to be unfair.

Because some of them were inconvenienced on account of their ideas (so they say… ), they are done with peaceable and constitutional means. They declare in the newspapers that, from now on, they will take their movement underground. These terrorized terrorists are lead by Mr. X. And, in their courageous anonymity, will sow the seeds of their ideas – while they wait for their bombs to go off!

No, but seriously! In the province of Quebec, Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Communists – two infinitesimally small minorities – have been violated, persecuted and shamed by our whole society; yet they have found legal ways to fight back against the Church, the State, the nation, the police and public opinion. The unionists, who suffered dismissals for their union activities, never thought of destroying individual freedoms but, on the contrary, were always defenders of those rights, as well as champions for the democratic cause.

But our nationalists, they – who the “experts” claim have hiding within them a completely French Canadian core – despair of ever being able to have their “message” legally accepted by a majority of French Canadians. They yell about persecution so they can justify adopting the secrecy of the resigned.


V – The Wigwam Complex

The truth is that the separatist counterrevolution is made up of a powerless petty bourgeois minority that fears being left out of the revolutions of the twentieth century. Rather than making a place for themselves through excellence, they want to force the whole tribe to enter their particular wigwams by declaring independence. That, of course, does not prevent the rest of the world from taking giant leaps forward; it will not change the laws or the facts of history, nor the real power relationships in North America.

But at least within their tribe, the counter-revolutionaries will be kings and sorcerers. They will have the legal authority to declare war (fighting it is a whole other story!), to name plenipotentiaries (bourgeois), to open banks (bourgeois) and to impose a system of customs and tariffs favourable to the petty bourgeoisie. They will also be able to transfer property titles, and to declare foreign industries to be owned by the tribal bourgeoisie. The tribe risks being seriously impoverished, but the counter-revolutionaries won’t be. That’s what really matters in the end, isn’t it?

Some of these counter-revolutionaries give themselves away by dressing up as Marxist-Leninists, as did the African chiefs whom they see as role-models. Yet this whole masquerade was admirably described by Frantz Fanon in The Wretched of the Earth, even though our counter-revolutionaries say that this book is their bedside reading. (This makes me think that, perhaps, they aren’t reading in bed; so I will do them the favour of citing, at some length, from this book published by Maspero in 1961, and in which, possibly, they flipped through only the chapter on violence.)

“The national bourgeoisie will require the nationalization of the economy and the commercial sectors… Nationalization for it signifies very precisely the transfer to indigenous peoples of the hereditary free-passes of the colonial period (p. 115) … It uses its class aggressiveness to monopolize the posts that were previously held by strangers … It will fight without pity against those who “insult the national dignity” … In fact its approach will be more and more tinged with racism (p. 118) … Everywhere where this national bourgeoisie has shown itself incapable of sufficiently expanding its view of the world, we see a reflux towards tribal positions; we see, furious and sick at heart, the exacerbated triumph of ethnic groups (p. 120) … Domestically … the bourgeoisie chooses the solution that seems the easiest, that of a single-party system. … The single party is the modern form of dictatorship, without a mask, without makeup, without scrupules, cynical (p. 124)… All ideological activity is limited to a series of variations on the theme of a people’s right to self-government (p. 128) … Institutionally, it (the national bourgeoisie) skips the parliamentary phase and chooses a dictatorship along national-socialist lines (p. 129) … This tribalization of power leads, as we can well imagine, to a spirit of regionalism, separatism (p. 137)… It is true that if we take the precaution of using a language comprehensible only to those who practice law or economics, the proof will be easily found that the masses must be led. (p. 140)”

Separatism, a revolution? Come on. A counter-revolution; the national socialist counter-revolution.