COVID-19: Let’s reject nationalist illusions and denounce petty-bourgeois complacency towards the Legault government!

All over the world, the COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating the contradictions of the capitalist mode of production and aggravating the disorder of bourgeois society. At the international level, competition between the bourgeoisies of the various imperialist countries is intensifying and taking on new forms. At the national level, the health care systems are overwhelmed and prove incapable of responding properly to the spread of disease and the needs of the masses. Economic chaos is growing and the proletarians are being abruptly impoverished. In each affected country, this instability creates a potentially explosive situation: it generates conditions conducive to the spontaneous emergence of popular revolt movements against the bourgeois state. In the face of this threat, the dominant classes seek to consolidate their power by all means. In addition to the unprecedented measures of control they put in place in each country (measures serving first to fight the epidemic, but also having a class aspect, purely repressive, which will reveal itself as the situation develops), the various national bourgeoisies are obliged to intensify the ideological bombardment to which they subject the popular masses of their respective countries, in order to ensure the support of the petty-bourgeois strata and to limit as much as possible the disavowal of the regimes in place by the proletarians.

On the one hand, the propaganda campaigns carried out by the ruling classes take the form of vast public relations operations aimed at giving the impression that governments are in complete control of the situation, that they are protecting the health of the population against the virus and that they are acting on behalf of the people’s well-being. On the other hand, they take the form of solemn calls for national unity and patriotic speeches with warlike connotations. These ideological and propagandist discourses have the effect of masking the class contradictions within society and the reactionary nature of the capitalist state. Far from serving the struggle against the pandemic, they aim to promote the passivity and submission of the proletarians by training them to support “their” national bourgeoisie in the imperialist world competition. Finally, they aim to make people forget that governments have not been able to prevent the spread of the virus and have allowed the situation to deteriorate to the point of seriously endangering the health of the masses.

In Quebec, this phenomenon manifested itself from the very beginning of the crisis in a specific form and with particular vivacity. Very quickly, the Quebec big bourgeoisie sought to strengthen its power and protect its economic interests by deploying a vast propaganda campaign to promote its state, its government executive and its private businesses. Thus, as soon as the first containment measures were announced by the provincial government, the major bourgeois media began to spread the idea that Quebec’s response to the pandemic was exemplary and to portray Premier François Legault as a true national hero. In unison, journalists, columnists and political commentators were quick to praise the Legault government’s management of the crisis. For days on end, on every occasion, they openly and unsubtly praised the supposedly extraordinary effectiveness, leadership and courage of the Prime Minister and his team. At the same time, the “performance” of François Legault was contrasted with that of Justin Trudeau, who was described in every forum as mediocre – when in fact the differences were completely superficial, even by the standards of bourgeois politics. In fact, any insignificant detail was used to make a positive image of the Quebec premier and to make him appear more competent than his rivals. He was even praised for his punctuality and described as a “true metronome” for the simple reason that he appeared before the media every day at 1:00 p.m.! The bourgeois media also constructed a kind of artificial mythology around Horacio Arruda, the national director of public health, generating a wave of adoration for him among the petty-bourgeoisie. Arruda was quickly presented as a man of great charisma when in fact he is a fool incapable of giving clear explanations to the population. Guy A. Lepage, host of the TV show Tout le monde en parle, even declared on air that “Horacio is now our hero”.

Commentators and journalists have also been very insistent on the quality of the daily press briefings of the “Legault-Arruda-McCann trio”, which have been portrayed as real political masterpieces – even though they are nothing more than a completely empty and redundant public relations exercise. For example, during his appearance on the TV show Tout le monde en parle, Patrice Roy, Radio-Canada’s star presenter, said that these press conferences would “win the world championship, all categories, of the communication prize”. Basing himself on the words of his colleague, Patrick Lagacé, the columnist for La Presse, added that he had “no recollection of a government that was so transparent” – while at the same time, Premier Legault was openly lying to the public about the stock of masks and protective equipment available in the health network! It was also emphasized that the government press briefings had become the new “daily rendez-vous for Quebecers” and that they demonstrated the Premier’s “closeness” to the people. Le Soleil columnist Patrick Duquette even used the expression “the Legault mass” to describe these conferences, describing them as “a rock to hold on to in doubt and torment” and going so far as to say that “these days, our Judeo-Christian roots are happily coming to the surface” with this new reassuring ritual! At the same time, on all the platforms, people began to talk about the “return of the nation” as a refuge from the pandemic and the renewed attachment of Quebecers to their state.

For his part, Premier Legault himself was quick to put the Quebec nation at the centre of his speeches, speaking of an “army of eight and a half million Quebecers” engaged in a great common battle to defeat the virus. He began to galvanize a sense of national pride among the population, notably by trying by every means possible to demonstrate that Quebecers were better than others in the fight against the pandemic. In his press briefings, he never stopped congratulating himself and praising the measures taken by the Quebec government to fight the virus, presenting them as particularly avant-garde (when in reality they were quite similar to the measures taken by other imperialist governments in North America and Europe) and ignoring the major problems that were emerging day after day. He even referred to a compilation of Google data that seemed to show that Quebecers respected the containment guidelines more than the rest of North Americans (while omitting to say that according to the same data, they respected them much less than the French and Italians)! In one of his daily press briefings, the Prime Minister stated that Quebec would emerge “more united, stronger, more prosperous and prouder” from the fight against the virus. And while infections were multiplying in the province, he announced the creation of an internet platform called “Le Panier Bleu” to encourage people to buy Quebecois … in other words, to support the national capital!

Following the declaration of a state of emergency, an ideological movement in support of the Legault government emerged spontaneously within the Quebec petty-bourgeoisie. This movement grew extremely quickly, so much so that even elements that are not normally particularly supportive of the current government’s agenda began to publicly express their admiration for the Prime Minister and his team. On her Facebook page, the co-spokesperson for Québec Solidaire, the favourite party of Quebec’s cultural and “progressive” petty-bourgeoisie, said, “Today, we are all on the same team. I want to wish the best of luck to the Prime Minister, the Minister of Health, and all my government colleagues, and to see how they have been working hard over the past few days to get us to where we are today. You are playing the role of conductor. And we are playing the role of musicians, first violins, probably, but we are here because we have to do it together.” This statement perfectly reflected the complete complacency of the petty-bourgeoisie towards the Legault government. A large number of artists volunteered to produce, at the Prime Minister’s call, propaganda videos designed to convey health instructions “to young people” (and above all to give the masses a sympathetic image of François Legault). In one of these highly complacent videos, comedian Rachid Badouri congratulated the government for his “super good job”. Among ecologists, they also began to appreciate the work of the Prime Minister and praised his calls for nationalist “deglobalization”. For example, on the Facebook page of the group La planète s’invite au parlement, publications such as the following began to appear: “The Legault government has just launched a vast local purchasing campaign to boost the economy. The “Le Panier Bleu” initiative is a hit, and that’s great news! ». Prominent ecological activist Dominic Champagne also said the following: “This time, to his credit, François Legault is not playing on the word urgency. He recognizes the urgency to act and he is moving from words to deeds, following the demands of science.” Many petty-bourgeois also began to strongly criticize journalists, who, according to them, were asking too many questions to the government – whereas, on the contrary, the media have been acting since the beginning of the crisis as a perfect transmission belt at the service of the capitalist state! For them, it was now forbidden to question the claims of their new national heroes. Those who did so were accused of creating a climate of disunity and suspected of treason. For example, comedian François Bellefeuille told on Tout le monde en parle that he was shocked to see journalists asking François Legault questions about the police crackdown on rallies in the previous days: “In the press briefing today, I found that journalists were starting to be a little bit… were looking for mistakes. Stop it there. Like, the police who went to the rallies… there were a lot of questions. …I’d ask the journalists, if I can, I’ll take advantage of it. Think about your role, it’s not necessarily to look for shit or what’s not there.” In short, even more quickly and even more profoundly than the Quebec ruling class might have wished, the petty-bourgeoisie of the province allowed itself to be swept away by the nationalist wave, and sided absolutely behind the capitalist power. Once again, it is playing perfectly its role as a cushion to protect the dominant class and as a column for capitalism to hold on to.

The ideology propagated by the government executive and by the bourgeois media has generated particularly strong illusions, not only about the nature of the Legault government and the Quebec state, but also about how the government has actually managed the health crisis. While the Quebec government’s response to the threat posed by the virus was in line with that of other imperialist states in the world – that is, completely deficient – Premier Legault was presented as a saviour with the situation well in hand. In reality, as the proletarians of Quebec are seeing day after day, the Legault government’s actual management of the crisis is the opposite of what the capitalist media portrayed and the image that has been imprinted in the minds of the petty-bourgeoisie: it is a monumental disaster. Day after day, proletarians perceive the growing chaos in Quebec society. Notably, in the CHSLDs, the epidemic is now completely out of control. Infections and deaths are multiplying. Like other bourgeois states in the world, the Quebec state has seriously underestimated the threat posed by the virus and its scandalous lack of preparation has put the health of proletarians at risk. To be convinced of this, we need only retrace the course of events and analyze the past and present actions of the Legault government.

The Legault government’s real management of the crisis: a monumental disaster

First of all, contrary to what the bourgeois media and nationalist ideologues would have us believe, the measures taken by the Quebec bourgeois state were by no means exceptional or farsighted. In the days when the Quebec government announced the first containment measures, all governments in Europe and North America adopted similar measures. For example, on March 9, schools in the Madrid region of Spain were closed. Four days later, the Government of the Community of Madrid ordered the closure of bars, restaurants and non-food stores with the exception of pharmacies. On March 13, the same day as the government of Quebec, 11 of the 16 German states also decided to close schools and universities on their territory. On March 14, France announced the “effective closure of all public places not essential to the life of the country” and of all schools. We can see that the actions of the Quebec government did not result from any particular foresight on the part of the Legault government: it simply did as others did once the green light was given internationally. In fact, the Quebec government even lagged slightly behind other governments, particularly with respect to the closure of “non-essential” businesses, as we will see below.

While the great Quebec bourgeoisie has tried to convince the masses that the Quebec state’s response to the pandemic has been a great success, the truth is that it is a real disaster. Political commentators have all been obsessed with the draconian measures taken by the government since mid-March, but almost no one has talked about the obvious: the government did virtually nothing in the precious weeks leading up to it to prepare the province for the arrival of the virus and to try to prevent it from spreading uncontrollably among the population. In fact, like all other imperialist states, the Quebec state and the Legault government minimized the seriousness of the situation and allowed the virus to spread in the province without reacting, even though it had been clear since January that the situation would degenerate if nothing was done. However, it would have been technically possible to greatly limit the spread from the outset by closing assembly sites much earlier, restricting movement more quickly, conducting a large-scale screening operation, immediately isolating the first infected people and organizing campaigns to disinfect public places. In addition, the health system should have been much better prepared to deal with the outbreak by stockpiling more protective equipment, mobilizing more resources, hiring more staff, implementing more effective safety protocols, etc. Finally, it would have been necessary to prepare the population for the arrival of the virus by giving them the right information instead of keeping them in the dark: scientific and health education campaigns and clear instructions would have had to be deployed as early as January-February. In short, the objective situation would have demanded much greater measures and a much more rapid reaction, but none of this was done and the government waited until the last moment to act – thus condemning a large number of proletarians to death.

“At present, […] the flu is more of a threat than the coronavirus. That’s what makes people sick. There are probably more people being killed in the world right now from the flu than from the coronavirus. ». These words were not spoken by Donald Trump, but by Horacio Arruda, the new hero of Quebec’s petty bourgeoisie, in early February. Also stating that there was still “little data” on the virus, the Director of Public Health of the Quebec government seemed to feel that it was too early to conclude that the new coronavirus posed a significant threat. This gives us a good idea of the level of intelligence that drives this high-ranking functionary who is adored by the media. We also see the state of mind that prevailed at the time in the upper echelons of the province’s authorities. First of all, the fact that there was a lack of data on the new coronavirus was an excellent reason to fear it more than the virus that causes seasonal flu – a virus that has been known for a long time, whose consequences on the health of populations are quite predictable and, above all, for which there is a vaccine! This was, moreover, the point of view shared at the time by all credible scientists specializing in the field. Also, we already knew, since the SARS-CoV epidemic (the virus responsible for the famous severe acute respiratory syndrome) between 2002 and 2004, that coronaviruses could be highly pathogenic agents, contrary to what had long been thought (given that many coronaviruses only cause simple colds). Moreover, the first studies carried out in January in China on the new coronavirus had shown that it is transmitted from person to person and that it can cause severe respiratory disease (similar to SARS), which can be fatal. According to the article Emerging understandings of 2019-nCoV published in The Lancet on 24 January, “these characteristics [were] driving China’s urgent public health actions, as well as international concern.” Early information on the virus in January already suggested that it was more contagious and much more lethal than seasonal influenza, and this began to be increasingly confirmed in subsequent studies. In short, by January it was clear that the threat was serious and that comparisons with influenza such as the one made by Horacio Arruda were stupid and irresponsible. Indeed, on January 30, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak of the new coronavirus to be a “public health emergency of international concern,” adding that “It is expected that further international exportation of cases may appear in any country”, while stating that it was “still possible to interrupt virus spread, provided that countries put in place strong measures to detect disease early, isolate and treat cases, trace contacts, and promote social distancing measures commensurate with the risk.” Yet on March 9, five weeks later, our dear Horacio Arruda continued to publicly downplay the danger posed by the virus: “We are lucky in Quebec. We have cases, but not in large quantities. Probably that quantity will increase in the coming weeks and months.” The same day, Premier Legault also made a statement reducing the seriousness of the situation: “I think people need to be reassured that the risks are very low… that there is almost no risk in Quebec of contracting the coronavirus through transmission. There are very few cases, and these cases are isolated.” Only five days later, the Quebec government declared a state of health emergency in the province after having ordered the closure of schools and daycare centres the day before!

In order to take the measure of the Legault government’s total lack of preparedness to deal with the pandemic and to realize how out of touch it was with reality in the days before the crisis began, let us recall that the government tabled its new budget on March 10 – four days before the declaration of the state of health emergency – and that it contained no concrete measures to fight the virus or to deal with the economic difficulties that would arise. In the budget speech that day, COVID-19 was mentioned only once in passing, when the virus should have been the centre of gravity of the measures announced! Moreover, while major investments in the health sector would have been necessary (this was already called for under normal circumstances, but it was all the more urgent as a monstrous pandemic was developing), the Legault government’s new budget provided for a level of health spending that would only keep the system in the state it was in, that is, in a lamentable state. The budget was denounced for this reason by the Fédération interprofessionnelle de la santé du Québec (FIQ): “By making the political choice to increase its health and social services spending by 5.3%, which slightly exceeds the threshold of system costs, the government is opting for a conservative choice that will only maintain the current state of the health system, without really improving it.” At the same time, the union deplored the lack of efforts made by the Legault government since the previous budget to hire more health care workers. The lack of personnel in the health network is having dramatic consequences as the COVID-19 epidemic is getting completely out of control in CHSLDs.

The first measures announced by the government on March 13 and 14, including the closure of schools and daycares and bans on gatherings, were so draconian that they overshadowed the fact that almost nothing had been done in the previous weeks. One would think, however, that from that point on, the Government of Quebec was in control of the situation and was doing what was necessary. But that was not the case. Even from that point on, the government was slow to put in place the strong measures that were needed. As the days were numbered and the virus was spreading among the population, the Government of Quebec waited until March 23 before ordering the closure of businesses deemed “non-essential”. After all, the Quebec imperialist bourgeoisie could not be the first to stop the exploitation of workers and the process of creating surplus value at the origin of capitalist profit, because this would have put it at too great a disadvantage compared to competing imperialist bourgeoisies, especially the U.S. bourgeoisie. In announcing the “pause” in the economy, Premier Legault justified his decision on the grounds that the fight against the virus had entered a “new stage” due to the number of confirmed cases in the province (which at the time stood at over 1,000). This was an outright lie. In truth, the choice of date had absolutely nothing to do with the progression of the virus: the Legault government was simply waiting for competing imperialist states to resign themselves to making the decision before it did. Thus, the “shutdown” of the Quebec (and Ontario) economy on March 23 followed very closely that of some major U.S. states on March 21 (notably New York and California). It also occurred a few days after the closure of “non-essential to the life of the nation” stores and businesses in France on March 16. Once again, the interests of big business decided the fate of the workers. In Quebec, they were forced to continue working for ten days after the declaration of the state of emergency, running the risk of unnecessary exposure to the virus. These 10 lost days likely contributed to the acceleration of the epidemic in the province. And now, the Quebec government is already beginning to prepare for the return to work as large numbers of people are infected and deaths are on the rise!

Let us go back to the inaction of the Quebec government in the weeks before the crisis began. Let us recall that the new coronavirus had been identified in China as early as January 7 by Chinese scientists and that the first scientific descriptions of the pathology and epidemiology of the virus dated January 24. Draconian containment measures had already begun to be implemented on 22 January in Hubei province in China to contain the spread of the virus, whose devastating effects on the population were beginning to be observed. Finally, the risk of a pandemic had been known for a long time – including by Canadian and Quebec authorities – especially since the SARS-CoV epidemic between 2002 and 2004. It was therefore as early as January that significant action should have been taken by the Government of Quebec if it had really acted to protect the population. However, it was not until February 18 – when the first case of COVID-19 in Canada had been identified more than two weeks earlier – that the Legault government set in motion its process of purchasing protective masks after realizing that the available stocks might prove to be insufficient. Indeed, the Quebec government, which had been unwilling to make the necessary expenditures in previous years, did not have a reserve of medical equipment useful in the event of an epidemic. Proletarians are now paying the price for this negligence. In particular, because of the lack of masks and medical equipment, health care workers are unnecessarily exposed to the virus and are forced to work in dangerous conditions. In fact, the Legault government has done virtually nothing to prepare the health care system for the arrival of the virus in the province. Aside from the issue of equipment, it should be mentioned that the workers in the network were not properly informed of the situation that was developing and did not receive training on the virus. The required health protocols were not put in place. Also, vulnerable people were not sheltered quickly enough. In particular, the confinement in CHSLDs, where a large number of elderly people are concentrated, came much too late. On March 9, the government announced that it did not plan to ban visits to these institutions. This delay, in addition to other major shortcomings in the government’s management of the crisis, is proving fatal at a time when the epidemic has got out of control in this sector and the scenes of horror are multiplying. In terms of testing, the Legault government waited until the week of March 9 to open the first three clinics in the province, when there were probably already many undetected infected cases in the population. In fact, massive, widespread screening tests (i.e., available to everyone, not just those “at risk” or symptomatic) should have been done well before March 9. This would have isolated many infected people from the outset and greatly limited the spread of the virus. With regard to screening, it would also have been desirable for all persons arriving from abroad to be tested systematically and for them to be placed in preventive quarantine. Furthermore, the Montreal airport should have been largely closed for several weeks. It is true that these last two issues are not the responsibility of the Government of Quebec, but we did not hear Premier Legault make these requests in Ottawa in the two months before the state of emergency was declared.

Nationalism reflects historically limited economic forms and protects bourgeois power from the threat of popular revolt

It is quite ironic that in the face of the current world situation, the reaction of capitalists is to strengthen the national framework and fuel nationalist ideology, considering the fact that it is the whole of humanity (and not a particular country) that is threatened by the virus. The response of the bourgeois states is completely out of step with the objective necessities and the real movement of the virus. In reality, the most effective fight against the pandemic would involve going beyond the narrow confines of the national framework, putting an end to imperialist competition and putting in place genuine planning on a global scale. But all this is impossible for the bourgeoisie, a social class which, because of its conditions of existence and reproduction, is condemned to struggle to keep society chained to archaic forms of organization. Thus, the capitalists’ response to the threat of the virus reveals the historical limits of the bourgeois relations of production and distribution as well as the rotten character of the economic forms developed by bourgeois society. This does not mean that capitalism will be unable to stop the pandemic, but only that it will do so at the price of completely unnecessary suffering and human loss. The proletariat cannot endorse the aberrations resulting from the decay of capitalist institutions. It cannot passively accept to remain eternally at the mercy of big capital. On the contrary, it must aspire to superior and progressive forms of social organization: collective ownership of the means of production, economic planning on a world scale and the abolition of social classes.

The illusions generated by the propaganda and the nationalist discourse of the Legault government only serve the interests of Quebec’s big bourgeoisie. Like the other dominant classes in the world, the latter sought to consolidate its position and ensure the submission of the popular masses in a period of growing instability. It also sought to mask its inability to ensure the health of the proletarians and to make society function properly. The proletarians must not be fooled. They must reject the bourgeois ideology propagated by the media, which prevents them from seeing the Quebec state as it really is: a state hostile to the interests of the working people. They must unreservedly denounce the petty-bourgeois complacency towards the Legault government that has led the popular masses of the province into a disastrous health situation. Finally, they must prepare to revolt against the bourgeois power that keeps them in exploitation. In Quebec, Canada and everywhere else in the world, proletarians must criticize bourgeois society by their actions and start organizing themselves to one day achieve its complete overthrow!

Let’s dispel the nationalist illusions propagated by the Quebec bourgeoisie!
Let’s unreservedly denounce the enemies of the people in power in Quebec City!
Let’s prepare ourselves to revolt against the rotten regime that has led us to disaster!