Last October the surface calm of Canadian politics was shattered following the kidnappings by the Quebec Liberation Front (FLQ) of the British Trade Commissioner in Montreal, James Cross, and the Quebec Labor Minister. Fearful of the separatist-nationalist sentiment in French-speaking Quebec province, the Canadian government on October 16 invoked the War Measures Act, which suspended civil liberties and gave the police virtually unrestricted search and arrest powers.
Pierre Vallieres, well-known author and FLQ leader, was one of the first to be arrested during the dragnet police raids. When released on bail six weeks ago, on June 23, he was the last person held under the Act to get bail.
For Vallieres, this treatment from the government was not unusual. In 1966 he and Charles Gagnon were in the United States when they heard of the arrest of some fellow members of the FLQ. They went to demonstrate at the U.N. to demand freedom for the Quebecois (people of Quebec), and were arrested by agents of the U.S. Department of Immigration. After three months in prison in the U.S. the two were found guilty of illegal entry into the country, although both carried valid passports, and were shipped back to Montreal.
Both Vallieres and Gagnon were to spend almost four years in prison without bail, becoming recognized in that time as political prisoners. While in the Manhattan Detention Center, known as the "Tombs", Vallieres had written a book Les Negres Blancs d'Amerique (The White Niggers of America). It was to be used as evidence against him for charges that pre-dated the book. Despite numerous legal manipulations the Canadian government was able to obtain few convictions against the two men, but these convictions were reversed in the Court of Appeals.
During their trials after the October events, where the charges included seditious conspiracy, most of the 1966 charges against Vallieres and Gagnon were dropped. But still they were denied bail. When Vallieres was finally released he had spent fifty-two out of the last fifty-seven months in prison.
Much of the story of Pierre Vallieres is now familiar, even outside of Quebec. But meeting him was an experience. The interview was in French, which two of the three of us spoke adequately. Vallieres's voice was calm, conveying intellectuality without arrogance, and combined with a sense of humility and humanity. The interview printed below indicates the clarity with which Pierre presents his analysis. What it does not adequately reveal is the humour in his nuances, nor the moving impression left with us of his courage.
Pierre Vallieres is not a martyr nor a culture-hero. Rather, he is a revolutionary, dedicated to the liberation of the Quebecois and identified with the same struggles of all other peoples of the world.
Question: Since the October crisis, how would you evaluate the present level of political struggle in Quebec?
Pierre Vallieres: It is obvious that October was a turning point in Quebec's history. The October events reflected the deep aspirations for freedom in the Quebecois. At first there was a brief period of fear induced by the War Measures Act which quickly gave way to a greater desire among the people for liberation from colonialism and imperialism. Among certain segments of the population, the desire for socialism is very clear, especially among students, workers, and the unemployed. To them, it is inconceivable that Quebec could be truly independent without being at the same time a socialist state.
The petite bourgeoisie itself is aiming for independence but it is important to understand that if the Parti Quebecois (Quebec People's Party-PQ), as presently constituted, were to take power it would be unable to do more than enact minor reforms. In fact, its reforms would have to be at least as radical as those of Allende in Chile, and this would have to come from pressure from the membership itself, in order to concretely solve Quebec's socio-cultural and economic problems.
The PQ must directly confront imperialism. They would then be forced along one of two paths: they would either have to take a clear stand against imperialism in Quebec or would have to try to develop a regime based on a false unity with the rest of Canada, in which case a purge of various progressive organizations would occur. However, through independence, the Quebecois are looking for the means of changing the material conditions of the people, and in this way nationalism is not reactionary, but more like that process which leads to popular liberation, as in Vietnam.
The truth is that even the goals of the PQ cannot be realized without socialism. Furthermore, even if the PQ were to assume state control, there would still be a need for the Quebec Liberation Front to exist. It is important to build a revolutionary organization outside of the PQ and trade unions. It is imperative to organize independently of the petite bourgeoisie and to imbue the mass movement with a clear ideology and provide it with the proper means of survival without hindering the activities of other groups working towards socialism in Quebec. In other words, a collective effort is required to produce the ideological and technical know-how needed to cope with the profound changes in a socialist Quebec. This presupposes avid political activity at the base, in every neighborhood, city and village, at work, in the schools and universities--everywhere one must discuss politics and search out the best means of realizing our goals. We don't have to wait for the Messiah. From right now, today, people must organize themselves to take their affairs into their own hands.
The important thing to do now is to overcome the fear of making contacts one with the other, because the end result of isolation is the consolidation of privilege in the elite, privilege which the majority do not share.
At this time, the perspective should also be to subordinate the ethnic struggle in Quebec, that is, the conflict between English and French, to one of class struggle. In order to do this, all means of organizing the people are useful, as long as the emphasis is socialist.
Here in Quebec the whole economy is owned and controlled by outsiders. There is a very small petite bourgeoisie, perhaps 10 per cent of the people. I do not include in this group journalists, teachers, not even engineers, many of whom are unemployed. They have no material interests to safeguard. In other words, since there is but a small indigenous capitalist class, I would say there is very little to fear from the Quebec bourgeoisie. The whole economic set up results in tremendous under-development in Quebec, because all the financial institutions are owned by outsiders for their own benefit.