Labour Studies Index

Updated: 2022-05-16

The Empire Within: Montreal, the Sixties, and the Forging of a Radical Imagination

Document type Thesis
Author Mills, Sean William
Degree Ph.D. (History)
Publisher Queen's University; Kingston, Ont.
Date 2007
Pages 440 pages


This thesis explores the wide variety of ways in which radical intellectuals and activists in Montreal used and adapted Third World decolonization theory to build a broad movement of solidarity and anti-colonial resistance from 1963-1972. Beginning in the early 1960s, activists and intellectuals in Montreal began drawing upon the language of Third World decolonization to resituate their understandings of themselves, their society, and the world in which they inhabited. Through their engagement with Third World liberation theory – and the closely related language of Black Power – radical intellectuals in Montreal sought to give new meaning to the old conception of humanism, and they worked to drastically expand the geographical frame of reference in which Quebec politics were generally understood. After analyzing the shifting meaning of decolonization in the period leading up to the late 1960s, this thesis explores the ways in which various groups adopted, built upon, challenged, and shaped the conception of Quebec liberation. Montreal’s advocates of women’s liberation, the city’s Black activists, defenders of unilingualism, and labour radicals were all deeply shaped by the intellectual and urban climate of Montreal, and by ideas of Quebec decolonization. They developed their own individual narratives of liberation, yet linked by the flexible language of decolonization, these narratives all greatly overlapped, forming a vast movement which was larger than the sum of its parts. If the concept of decolonization was extremely powerful, however, it was also highly ambiguous and contradictory, and activists only slowly came to an understanding of the multi-layered nature of colonialism in Quebec. By the early 1970s, the idea of decolonization was slowly abandoned by those advocating radical social change in the city. This thesis makes three interrelated arguments. First, it argues that radicalism in Quebec in the 1960s cannot be understood outside of the larger international context in which it emerged. Second, it attempts to rethink the ways in which different groups and movements during the 1960s interacted and fed upon each other’s analyses and learned from each other. And, finally, by looking at the centrality of Third World decolonization to the development of dissent in Montreal, it hopes to add new perspectives to the growing field of international Sixties scholarship, by insisting that history of the ‘West’ was profoundly shaped by its interactions with the Third World.