Next weekend, the national political commission of Quebec is coming together after months of hard work by over 150 who actually were mandated to write a platform. One could ask, why did it take so long? Well the medium was the message, as McLuhan famously said. The way that program was made through a long almost circular process of consultation back and forth was almost as important as its final content.

QS was created by a unique accumulation of forces in which the decisive leadership was provided by Françoise David, the former President of the Fédération des femmes du Québec (FFQ). The FFQ was THE social movements that confronted the nationalist-neoliberal pseudo consensus back in the 1990s. It even had to confront the powerful CSN and FTQ who at that time were still tailing Lucien Bouchard. Françoise herself said that ‘enough was enough’ and that the popular movement had to take the risk and ‘plunge’. The risk was (and still is) very high, and on many counts. In any situation, moving from social resistance to the political sphere is highly volatile. Social movements have the advantage of being issued-based, even when they dare to tale a stand of macro policies. They can regroup around a particular platform, limiting so to speak the range of debates that they have to have. Even if they decided to support a political platform, their exteriority to it is somehow protective.

In Quebec, one has to add the national question. Coming out of the nationalist ‘consensus’ is even trickier. Many people on the left would say, ‘it’s not the time to pursue a socialist project’. Until ‘we’ have resolved the independence issue, we cannot break out of the ‘wider’ alliance which has been historically built around the PQ.

Faced with these two monumental challenges, Françoise David took the plunge. However, she did it her way, insisting that the lessons of the FFQ of inclusiveness and horizontalist consensus building would be integrated in the political process. This is why it took months to formulate a platform that could have been written to 8 and a half (maybe 9) intellectuals (mostly white male university professors) in a day or two.

And in fact this weeek-end is not going to be the end of story because the platform is only ‘provisional’ and will be used for months to come to organize regional and thematic consultations in which the hope is to bring over 5000 people to discuss its main issues and recommendations on how to ‘create a democratic, pluralist and sovereign Quebec’. And by the way, everyone is invited to participate on an equal footing, not only subscribed members. QS is part and parcel of the ‘wider movement’, not the center.

No one can be sure at this point if it will lift off the ground. Nonetheless, the conviction within QS is that, we do politics differently, either we do not and consequently, our reason to exist is to thin.

This is admirable on many counts. However, there is a ‘small’ problem with this. In the real society out there, it does not function like this of course. This ‘really existing’ political world is fed by images, spins, and illusions, ‘instant replies’, clips, name it. It’s more or less like selling toothpaste, you have to say that it will make your teeth brighter. Even basic ideologies, long term projects, which are sometime (not always) at the basis of the mainstream political parties, have to be spined in twelve second messages. ‘Vote for me and your life will be changed’. The domination of the media, the lack of political space from the beginning, the hidden and non transparent functioning of the state, disempower citizens and forces them to vote for the ‘best personality’. That’s how it works, that’s how it is structured. So when a ‘new kid on the block’ says, ‘no, I don’t want to play your marble game, I have another way’, it not easy.

For example, what is at stake in this federal election? On the one hand, it is dirty, controlled by big machines who are trying to defuse the debates. Especially the Harper machine who is trying, relatively successfully, to hide the ‘revolution’ that will come with a majority Conservative government. In the meantime, the Liberals will hide that they had rolled for more than a decade before Harper on the bandwagon of neoliberalism. These ‘fundamentals’ are there and they are not there. It would be so simple to say, like in Argentina, ‘que se vayan todos’ (let them ‘all’ leave), so corrupted they are. It would be simple to ‘wait’ for the moment when the ‘real confrontation’ will come, outside of that political circus that we call liberal democracy.

But no life is not so simple. There are immediate and long term implications from that political circus that will not only affect the lives of millions but also the faith of transformative projects like QS. Is it possible, and how, to take a stand, to intervene in that ‘marble game’ which is not ours, without loosing out soul, without being instrumentalised, without being eaten alive and discredited?

Many left projects have been broken because that dilemma was not resolved. How to use the ‘moment’, the short term immediate political temporality, that more than often distorts, perverts the long term process, undermines any meaningful attempt to build ‘real’ alternatives?

I am dreaming here but let us imagine that QS would have built a common platform with progressive left formations and social movements outside Quebec. Even more of a dream: with Jack! And it would have come out with a ‘credible’ short term, immediate platform to oppose the Harper revolution and its Liberal flip-flop mirror… It would have been minimal, a compromise in many ways, not too complicated, not locking it with all the long-term stuff. For example, on the issue of Quebec sovereignty, it is not so complicated to support, promote, and agree on the right of Quebec to self-determination. What that be a way out?

This is a dream and nothing like that will happen now of course and because of that, it opens a lot of space for Stephen. This ‘moment’ is gone. What about the next time?


Pierre Beaudet

Pierre Beaudet, active in international solidarity and social movements in Quebec, is founder of Quebec NGO Alternatives, and Editor of the Nouveaux cahiers du socialisme. He blogs on in English...