[lg policy] Bibitem: The Class Bases of Language Policy in Quebec, 1949-1975

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Mon Nov 19 15:10:20 UTC 2012

William D. Coleman

The Class Bases of Language Policy in Quebec, 1949-1975

The issue of language and its use has dominated political debate in Quebec
since the early sixties. Rene Levesque, the most durable of the leaders
identified with reform in the province, has written of the personality of the
Quebecois: "At the core of this personality is the fact that we speak
French. Everything else depends on this one essential element and follows
from it or leads us infallibly back to it. "1 The importance attached
to language
by the provincial regime hardly gives rise to surprise among social
scientists. Explanations using such concepts as nationalism, political
political modernization, bureaucratization etc. have been largely
accepted. Yet, if the issue of language is located in the context of
the reproduction
of capitalist social relations and the expansion of the capitalist state
in Quebec, additional insights into the issue are obtained. Language has
become a field of social and political struggle in Quebec. It is a primary
mode in which culture is lived. As a result of the growth of the capitalist
economy in Quebec, language has become the medium through which the
culture of French-speaking Quebecois is assaulted and defended in everyday
contexts. Further, language is a mode of symbolization, a means for
identifying the boundaries of the community. Through its capacity to single
out phenomena, to signify exclusion or inclusion, language becomes a
means for legitimation.

More specifically, in this article language will be shown to be an important
component in the process of legitimating aspects of the capitalist state
in Quebec. This is in contrast to the usual interpretation of language policy,
centered on a "new middle class" in Quebec. Presumably, around the time
of the Liberal victory in the 1960 provincial election, this class reaches a
point in its growth where it begins to force change. It gradually displaces
the clergy and its subalterns from the educational and health bureaucracies.

Studies in Political Economy

It is called upon to fill the middle positions in a series of new
public corporations.
As its numbers continue to swell, the argument goes, it pushes
for positions in the federal bureaucracy and in the dominant Englishspeaking
corporations in Quebec. At this point, it begins to become frustrated
because the latter sectors remain the preserves of English-speakers.
Pressure is then brought to bear on the federal government to bring about
bilingualism. Similarly, both levels of government are prevailed upon to
urge the private sector to become more open to francophones. Such pressure
culminates, at the provincial level, in the Liberal government's Official
Language Act in 1974 and the Levesque government's Charte de la langue
francoise in 1977.

Aside from the fact that this interpretation is insufficient for explaining
all aspects of language policy, its central assumption is itself increasingly
being brought into question. Recent works by Brunelle, Fournier, and
Coleman among others have raised doubts about the hypothesized central
role of the new middle class.? These critiques begin with the perception that
the Quebec economy is being increasingly dominated by a relatively small
number of large corporations in oligopolistic situations. This process of
concentration imposes severe pressures on smaller enterprises both in terms
of their competitiveness and their capacity to expand. Francophone
employers fall overwhelmingly into this latter group. Brunelle and Fournier
both note that in the post-war period, the provincial state in Quebec becomes
more and more concerned about the place of this bourgeoisie
autochtone and comes increasingly to promote its interests. Brunelle
argues, for example, that the inspiration for many of the economic reforms
of the 1959-1965 period is found in the Conseil d'orientation economique
du Quebec (COEQ), an organization specifically created by the Lesage
government to articulate the demands of the francophone bourgeoisie.'
This article will expand the scope of this position by examining the evolution
of language policy in Quebec in the post-war period up to and including
Bill 22, the Official Language Act of 1974. The analysis will be pursued
by focussing on social classes. The various fractions of the bourgeoisie will
be divided for the purposes of this article into monopoly capital, nonmonopoly,
francophone capital, and non-monopoly, non-francophone
capital. These divisions are not mere theoretical products but correspond to
the political groupings of the bourgeoisie in the language field. In proceeding
thus, we will follow the road suggested by Poulantzas and see social
classes as groupings defined principally but not exclusively by their place in
the production process." Hence, classes are also defined in political and
ideological practice. Przeworski extends this logic even further by concluding
that class formation takes place entirely in the field of struggle.' The
link with production is retained by saying that struggle is determined by the
totality of economic, political, and ideological relations. To a significant
extent, the findings in this article will lend credibility to
Przeworski's position.
Social classes, in a sense, do not exist until they are formed in the context
of political and ideological struggle.

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