"We Are Part Of Revolution Everywhere" An Interview with Pierre Vallieres
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.
On the industrial scene, the rate of fatalities among workers is the highest in Canada. Conditions leading to work-related diseases such as tuberculosis and silicosis are terrible.
Question: Considering the extent of American domination of the Canadian and Quebecois economies, do you not see the possibility of direct conflict with American troops sometime in the future?
Pierre Vallieres: In order to answer that question it is important to clearly analyze the roles of the various contending forces. For example, in Quebec, the action that the bourgeoisie takes around popular issues such as linguistic rights may well determine some of the forms of struggle. I don't think that English Canadians (as opposed to English Quebecois) would actively, in the military sense try to crush Quebec independence. I would think, however, that the position of the English in Quebec would be used to organize an anti-Quebecois drive by the American imperialists.
Question: What do you see for the future of Quebec once independence is won?
Pierre Vallieres: The future of Quebec depends on the manner in which independence is won. If independence is won through a civil war, this is obviously very much different from a "gentleman's agreement" between some political parties and the English and American bosses. It is impossible to have true independence as long as the present economic and other social institutions remain intact. It is clear then that a confrontation with the Americans is unavoidable. Therefore, it is all the more imperative to engage in negotiations with anti-imperialist governments throughout the world and indeed all the world's liberation movements. It is impossible to have socialism here without other struggles attacking the basis of American imperialism.
Obviously the ideal situation is for all countries to be at a similar leval of revolutionary development. However, different countries are fighting at different stages, and it is not possible for some leadership to tell the people when the time is ripe for revolution. The masses themselves are the ones who determine when the time is ripe. In this way, Quebec occupies a very important position within the North American context in that it can provide an example for other people in their fight against American imperialism.
Question: For those who are sufficiently militant to participate in revolutionary work, and since Canada has no mass revolutionary party, where does one direct such revolutionaries?
Pierre Vallieres: It is essential to recognize that there are many levels and means of mass popular organizing and activities. For example, clandestine underground activity does not and should not preclude more legal and mass-based types of organizing. Indeed, one cannot exist without the other. However, without proper organization and without clear political leadership--no matter if 85 per cent of the people desire freedom--true liberation cannot be achieved.
Question: In economic terms, many of the problems in Canada are similar to those of Quebec. How do you see Canadians fighting for their liberation together with Quebecois?
Pierre Vallieres: Canadians have no choice but armed struggle against imperialism. At the center of their struggle, they must place the liberation of Quebec, because in so doing they will come face to face against their own bourgeoisie. In Canada, the fight must develop along regional lines because the level of political consciousness is different in New Brunswick from what it is in British Columbia. Similarly, it is vital for Ontario to keep Quebec colonized. However, the main task is to unmask the inhuman face of imperialism. In this sense it is an international struggle. We are part of every revolution everywhere.
Question: Would you comment on the activity of the women's liberation movement now in Quebec?
Pierre Vallieres: There has been remarkable development. The liberation of women is essential to the liberation of any society. After all, when one half of the people is not free, there is no way that that society can be considered liberated. At present, there are many conflicts among women themselves. They are brainwashed by conventional social standards into believing that their only role is to fight for men's favors, to look good, whereas they must learn to accept themselves apart from these values which are imposed upon them. Our society produces the model of a woman which is insecure and passive, a person unable in many ways and unwilling to fight for her liberation. In these ways, the process is similar to all colonized peoples. In a nation already colonized, women are therefore doubly exploited.
Question: Some people have been saying that the five hundred people picked up during the October Crisis was meant to break the back of various support groups in the community. Others have said that it was to instill fear in the people. Can you comment on this?
Pierre Vallieres: Well, a list of over 5000 militants was prepared by the Montreal police and the RCMP. The police rounded up over 500 of the most active people in citizens' committees, unions, independence organizations, as well as journalists, teachers and even some politicians. This is not to say that they suspected all these people of being members of the FLQ but it was meant to merely paralyze the movement, to disorganize and behead the movement. Furthermore the government was hoping to frighten the people away from the FLQ. This is what the government referred to as "I' erosion de la volonte populaire."
Question: Is the FLQ still alive?
Pierre Vallieres: You can be sure of that, there is no worry. The FLQ is alive and well. Most important, the events of October inspired people to the realization that it is possible to confront the system by other ways than the electoral system. In October, many Quebecois related to the actions carried out by the FLQ.
Question: Is the FLQ strong enough and well-enough organized to lead a revolution in Quebec?
Pierre Vallieres: This it is doing, but there is much work yet to be done. It is not tomorrow that the revolution is going to come. We are just at the threshold of the struggle. Previous years have served but to help clarify the tasks which must be carried out today and tomorrow. It is necessary to take the time to build something solid and not rush too rapidly into actions which could cost dearly in terms of organization. Politically, there would be an obviously widespread response, a good response, but we might be left with nothing in the way of organization. It is imperative to ensure a continuity of actions which can be carried out successfully at the desired moment and in the desired manner.
Question: Earlier you stated the need for revolutionaries in Quebec and Canada to make contact with other movements around the world, and yet Cuba has suddenly cut off all contact with Latin America and other revolutionary movements. Do you have any ideas why this is so?
Pierre Vallieres: It is tragic but most revolutions are isolated. Many are not prepared for the rapid changes which take place and the massive dependence on other foreign powers like the USSR. For example, I cannot consider Chile a free country at the present time, for it is limited by its, lack of interaction with other countries. Thus, it will become freer as other Latin American countries achieve their own liberation.
Often during a revolution, the vanguard do not possess a homogeneous ideology--there are too many tendencies which result in purges later on. Furthermore, this leads the leadership to improvise their economic and political programs from year to year. The people's organizations are often not large enough to assure a true independence. While at the same time they demand the confidence of the people, they do not provide them with the essential means by which they can control the decisions affecting their own lives. This process inevitably leads to a bureaucracy of technocrats in whom are vested the expertise and power to carry out decisions. When a people are at an advanced stage of consciousness and indeed have carried out their revolution, and yet are not provided with the real power to make decisions, they become depoliticized.
Question: Do you think the North American movement, and more specifically, the Quebec movement, has the maturity to learn from the mistakes of these other revolutions, in order not to fall into these same errors?
Pierre Vallieres: The Quebecois are capable not only of disciplining themselves for the independence struggle but are also clear that socialism is a necessary aspect of that struggle. The danger of Stalinism exists, that is, it is possible that a group could get into power on the basis of independence and consolidate themselves as a new elite. However, the consciousness of the Quebecois is at such a level that such a thing would be very difficult to forecast. We must develop a category of revolutionary which possesses the technical and organizational skills and ideological clarity necessary to carry out these tasks, at the same time to be able to ally with young people who are questioning present day values and have strong liberatarian tendencies. In the final analysis, it is the people who will liberate themselves. Such a movement must therefore be grounded in the masses in order to serve the people's needs.
Pierre Vallieres still has sixteen charges outstanding, one of which is conspiracy (although all the other alleged conspirators have been acquitted). He returns to court this month.
(Copyright 1971 Dispatch News Service International)