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(en) France, Alternative Libertaire AL #281 - In 1918, in Quebec City: Down with conscription ! Long live the revolution ! (fr, it, pt) [machine translation]

Date Wed, 11 Apr 2018 06:39:19 +0300

Quebec, April 1918. In the capital of the " Belle province ", working-class neighborhoods are in turmoil. At the end of five days of riots against conscription, soldiers fired point-blank at the crowd. This tragic event can only be understood by placing it in the explosive context of the time, marked by an anti-imperialist and antimilitarist mobilization of a magnitude never seen in Quebec. ---- The First World War marked a turning point in the political history of the province of Quebec. From the earliest years of the conflict, Canada's military participation alongside Great Britain provoked strong opposition among the French-speaking population. Voices rise to denounce the discriminatory policies that undermine the rights of French-speaking minorities in the English-speaking provinces of Canada. The reasoning of the majority of French-Canadians is simple: why should we fight on European battlefields to defend the interests of the British Empire while in Canada we are treated as second-class citizens? order ?

Early on, military recruitment in Quebec was thwarted by an active mobilization of nationalist circles, but also socialist and anarchist groups who refused to abdicate their internationalist positions. These are mainly located in Montreal where they have significant foundations in some immigrant communities. These revolutionaries compensate for their small numbers by sustained militancy, characterized by the use of mass assemblies. Throughout the conflict, large crowds gather in the streets of Montreal to listen to socialist and anarchist speakers denounce the imperialist war. On May 27, 1917, thousands of people came to applaud the speech of Albert Saint-Martin, the secretary of the French-language section of the Socialist Party of Canada:" Wars are for the benefit of the capitalists, and the Canadian worker should feel no hatred against the German or Austrian worker he does not even know ."

Opposition to conscription

As the conflict gets bogged down, the federal government is working on a conscription project to make up for the lack of volunteers. This news raises a wave of protest across Quebec. Public assemblies and demonstrations multiply throughout the year 1917 in the four corners of the province. The discourse and practices of opponents of conscription are radicalized. The February revolution in Russia seems to have a tangible effect on the movement. Revolutionary slogans and songs become commonplace in rallies, as are calls for a general strike to defeat the conscription project. The movement also takes on an anti-imperialist dimension as anti-conscriptionist activists denounce British colonial policy in India and Ireland.

" Transforming the most peaceful people "

Meanwhile, ferocious debates are raging within the trade union movement over the position on conscription. While the socialist minority resolutely opposes the war effort, some leaders are holding back any form of direct action. In the pages of the newspaper The Workers World, the official organ of trades and Labor Council of Montreal, these leaders regularly denounce the positions of the " socialists " of " radicals " of " peace " and " elated " that they are accused of being " supporters of the IWW ". The militarist positions of Gustave Hervé and the majority of French and Belgian socialists are also highly valued to validate support for Canadian government policy.

Tension increased a notch during the summer of 1917. In Montreal, the police violently dispersed several demonstrations and actively search for the bombers who sprayed the residence of a businessman who was a supporter of conscription. It is also arresting anti-social activists accused of sedition and forcing some of them, like the Jewish anarchist Robert Parsons, to go into hiding.

Right-wing nationalists are beginning to worry about these " slippages ". Henri Bourassa, editorialist of the Catholic newspaper Le Devoir, warns the authorities: " Let these words be well weighed: conscription would mark, for the French-Canadians, the beginning of an evolution that would soon transform into a revolutionary people the most peaceful and perhaps the most orderly population of the two Americas. . Once unleashed, this revolutionary spirit would not stop on the way: it would not only attack the military regime: it would manifest itself in the factory, in the fields, everywhere, in all the functions of industrial, social and economic life. policy.[...]From the day when we have made these workers rebels, they will become the most uncontrollable insurgents against the social and economic order .

The riots of Quebec

While organizing the first rallies of solidarity with the October Revolution and intensifying repression against anti-conscriptionist circles, the arrest of a young man exempted from military service by federal police fires the powder in the the city of Quebec. This event, apparently banal, causes a series of riots that shook the capital of the province between 28 March and 1 st April 1918.

This is not the first time violence has broken out in Quebec, a city where the anti-conscription movement is very active. Twice, in May and September 1917, rallies held in the working-class neighborhoods ended in the attack on newspapers and residences of conscription supporters. But this time, the opposition that expresses itself in the street takes on a mass character. An angry mob first attacks the police station on Place Jacques-Cartier, in the heart of the Saint-Roch district. The next day, protesters invest a military registration office and burn the documents they find on the spot. Two newspapers supporting the conscription are also targeted by the crowd coming from the working class neighborhoods. Despite the arrival of two thousand soldiers dispatched by train from the province of Ontario,

Faced with the helplessness of the civil and religious authorities, the highest-ranking French-speaking Canadian army officer, Major-General Lessard, is called in as reinforcements and takes control of the operations. This officer has a long history of repression. In 1878, he took part in the crushing of a strike of diggers in Quebec which results in the death of a worker of French origin. In 1885, Lessard was decorated for his participation in the military intervention against the Métis rebellion in Western Canada. He also led a regiment of Royal Canadian Dragoons during the Second Boer War in South Africa in 1900 and 1901.

The war with the " reds "

Lessard orders the deployment of machine guns to put an end to the popular uprising. The group fired on a crowd gathered in the Saint-Sauveur neighborhood, killing one student and three workers (one of whom was barely 15 years old). The exact number of casualties remains uncertain as many victims avoid going to the hospital where the military makes arrests.

In the days following this bloody repression, the English press is unleashed against the rioters of Quebec. These are assimilated to " Bolshevik agitators " and " anarchists " while the revolutionary movements are for all practical purposes absent from this traditionally Catholic city. Meanwhile, rumors have surfaced that " Bolshevik " camps , made up of German immigrants and French-Canadian deserters, have been spotted in the forests bordering Ontario and Quebec. The war is not over yet that paranoia is already installed against the danger " red ".

On the side of the authorities, there is concern about the role played by anarchist and socialist militants in anti-conscriptionist mobilizations. To prevent the spread of anti-militarist and " Bolshevik " propaganda in Canada, the federal government adopted a series of decrees in September 1918 that drastically restricted freedom of association and freedom of speech. Thirteen " subversive " organizations are banned, including the Industrial Workers of the World, the Union of Russian Workers and the Social Democratic Party. Immigrants of Russian and Ukrainian origin are particularly targeted by these repressive measures.

What memory ?

The memory of these riots has long been part of Quebec's political memory. These events, however, were interpreted as an ethnic conflict between the French-speaking majority population in Quebec and the rest of Canada. While the opposition to the war and conscription actually had a more favorable echo in Quebec, especially among French-Canadians, it should not be inferred that it had no resonance among Anglophones and communities. immigrant. Across the country, voices have been raised denouncing the war effort and refusing compulsory enlistment, especially within the labor movement. If some intellectuals, the French-Canadians took an active part in the anticonscriptionist movement, those who took to the streets to face the forces of the order came mainly from the popular classes. This dimension, present from the beginning of the conflict, greatly influenced the form taken by the mobilizations and partly explains their radicality.

Mathieu Houle-Courcelles (IWW member)

Anarchist and Socialist Groups in Quebec (1914-1918)
The Socialist Party of Canada (PSC) is one of the oldest socialist groups in Canada. In 1914, the party had a few sections in Montreal, one of which was composed of French-speaking activists. The PSC sees itself above all as a group of Marxist agitation whose role is to educate the working class. Its members refuse to join the II th International because of the presence of the British Labor Party. Several influential members of the PSC will be involved in setting up the One Big Union (OBU) in 1919, a revolutionary industrial union with up to 50,000 members across Canada.

The Social Democratic Party of Canada (PSD) was founded in 1911 following a split of the Socialist Party of Canada. The new organization immediately adheres to the II th International. In 1914, the PSD has about 2,600 members, making it the largest socialist group in Canada. The PSD is particularly active in immigrant communities (more than half of its members are of Finnish origin) and groups together various sections established on ethnolinguistic bases, including in Montreal. Unlike the majority of organizations adhering to the 2 th International, the PSD will actively campaign against the war, which earned the group to be banned by the federal government in 1918.

The Workers' Party of Canada (POC), a branch of the Province of Quebec, founded in November 1917, is a broad coalition of activists from various socialist, trade union and labor groups. Inspired by the British Labor Party, it claims nearly 3,000 members at the beginning of 1918. Very early, divisions appear within the POC between a reformist current and a revolutionary current, majority in Montreal. The POC will be divided in 1919 around issues of trade union strategy, causing the departure of the revolutionary wing acquired theses developed by the One Big Union.

Before the First World War, there were several anarchist groups in Canada's major industrial centerswhich is primarily local (although these are linked to other organizations in North America and Europe). In Montreal, the majority of anarchist activists are of Jewish origin. There is also a French-speaking libertarian circle composed mainly of European immigrants. During the war, anarchist militants living in the United States crossed the border and participated in the anti-conscriptionist movement's rallies in Montreal. This is particularly the case of Robert Parsons

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