In Search of the ‘Modern Prince’: The New Québec Rebellion

Pierre Beaudet

Abstract


The ups and downs of progressive struggles over the past decade have refuelled a worldwide debate about reform/revolution, class/state, organization/spontaneity, as well as the key question of ‘agency’. This essay will address these issues specifically in relation to the ‘Carrés rouges’ in Québec, the leading site of rebellion in North America in recent years. As this popular movement created a new space for itself as part and parcel of a larger process, it also richly revealed the dialectics between the ‘local’ and the ‘international’. Indeed, the Québec militant ascendency can be associated with an unprecedented international mobilization around a complex and prolonged battle to challenge US and Canadian-led globalization processes (in particular the ‘Free Trade Area of the Americas’). In the late 1990s, a wide coalition involving trade unions and many grass-roots groups was created to move into action (beyond organizing conferences and lobbying governments), in conjunction with the emerging South American opposition. This coalesced into the People’s Summit of the Americas in 2001, an event organized by the Réseau Québécois sur l’intégration des Amériques in conjunction with networks in English Canada, the US, Mexico, Brazil, Chile and Argentina. More or less during the same period, the World Social Forum (WSF) was first convened in 2001 by Brazilian organizations and the Social Forum process in Québec came to serve an important organizational and intellectual process for the left.

These international foundations gave popular movements and the left a particular impetus, culminating in renewed efforts to build a counter-hegemonic project in Québec over the past decade, a period in which mass movements and struggles intensified, from student strikes to major confrontations led by community organizations (such as the powerful housing coalition FRAPRU) and trade unions. At the same time, a battle of ideas continued unabated in publications and journals and think tanks. In these experiments, the transformative project was organized and reinforced through inquiries and studies built on an active and constant dialogue between practice and theory, and rendered to social movements as learning and organizational tools. Notably, largely outside the universities, social movements have created their own think tanks within their own structures or in conjunction with like-minded independent collectives. In the tradition of Gramsci and Bourdieu, we can recognize here the establishment, through the prolonged and complex engagement of a ‘popular bloc’, of a counter-hegemonic power inside and outside the multiple structures of the state, fighting on multiple fronts in the economic, political and cultural domains. This reformulates, in our time, the Gramscian idea of the ‘modern prince’ as ‘a dynamic process, which aims at nothing less than a totalizing expansion across the entire social formation, as a new organization of social and political relations’.


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