Against Spanish nationalism *and* the Catalan independence movement!

October 8, 2017 at 8:04 pm (Andrew Coates, democracy, internationalism, national liberation, nationalism, protest, spain)

Andrew Coates (at Tendance Coatesy) writes:

https://ep02.epimg.net/politica/imagenes/2017/09/08/actualidad/1504872254_629045_1507455934_noticia_fotograma.jpg
The left should not pit one national flag against another.

Against Catalan Nationalism.

The “nation” should have the “right” to self-determination. But who is that “nation” and who has the authority and the “right” to speak for the “nation” and express its will? How can we find out what the “nation” actually wants?”

Rosa Luxemburg. The National Question.

The Catalan referendum has burst on the European scene without, apparent, warning. That this is not in fact true can be seen in an informative article in the Socialist Workers Party journal, International Socialism, which concludes by putting the issue of Catalonia centre stage ( Héctor Sierra Podemos, Catalonia and the workers’ movement in the Spanish state  Issue: 155) That it has been at the heart of Catalan politics for some time is well known; that there is a long history failed negotiation over recognition of the Catalan nation, and, perhaps, more pressing, calls for greater financial and political powers for the Generalitat, failing to recognise the laws that they passed, has become common knowledge in the last week. That the Rajoy government was prepared to act, brutally, on its threats against voting on independence, has stirred deep emotions, far beyond the Iberian Peninsula.

But perhaps a sign of the lack of urgency the issue recently evoked in Spain itself can be seen in the exchange between a leading figure in Podemos, Iñigo Errejón and member of the country’s right-wing government, José María Lassalle on the latter’s Contra el populismo (2017) in El País (9.9.17 and 16.9.17) at the beginning of September.

In this erudite discussion, the Minister of State cites Laclau, Gramsci and Stuart Hall in support of his view that the affective and political “people” has not been broken, and that the “institucionalidad democrática” remains open to the “admirado Errejón”. In Lassalle’s recognition of democratic dysfunctions, alongside a eulogy of European social peace, there is no mention of Catalonia, or of any method of dealing with those his boss considers less “admirable”.

National Popular.

It takes, nevertheless, little imagination to see how many of the ideas circulating in Podemos, of the People, of the National Popular, taken from Laclau, and used, as Lassalle suggests, as a kind of political “cartography”, would become important during the Catalan crisis. Within Podemos the current, Anticapitalistas, “Podemos en Movimiento” (13% at the February 2017 Congress), have long criticised the “populism” of its leadership, which seeks to ‘federate the people” of Spain against the ruling political ‘Casta”. A central charge it that they, both the Errejón tendency (Recuperar la Illusion, bring back the Hope), 34%) and the leader Pablo Iglesias’ grouping, (Podemos para Todas, 51%), have failed to recognise that there are effectively many “peoples” in Spain. (1)

In dialogue with Chantal Mouffe Errejón, has called for a “new democratic national-popular identity”. ”The issue in Spain is whether it’s possible to build a national narrative at the service of subaltern majorities that is also respectful of pluri-nationality and the right to decide.” (2) Translated into the present, this has involved the, entirely reasonable, attempt to open dialogue between the pro-independence forces in the Assemblea Nacional de Catalunya (ANC) and the central government. What this clearly does not do is encourage people to separate, to form a distinct “us” in Catalonia, aside from the wider struggle for an “emancipatory and radically democratic project” and “popular sovereignty”.

It would be interesting to trace how supporters of Catalan’s own path to “popular sovereignty”, or as it would better be described, ‘sovereigntistism’ the belief that the major political social and economic problems of the day be solved by getting one’s hands on the sovereign powers of a state, could perhaps defend some of the original axioms of Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe’s ‘post-Marxism’. That is, the idea that the working class is not the dominant political subject of emancipatory politics, but only one element in the “plurality of agents” brought together by “relations of equivalence” constituting democratic movements and demands, making up the figure of these Peoples pitted against the Spanish State. Some may radicalise the later Mouffe. That the Catalan partisan collective will has overflowed the boundaries of one state, created its own “relations of exclusion” against the institutions of ‘Madrid’. It would be free to create its own agonistic site where, it can create its own “agonistic democracy”, and let the fight against neo-liberalism begin on a new terrain (3)

Collective Will.

But in fact we now have a free for all for those wishing to build a “collective will” against the said administrative structure. Appealing for international support for their cause some Catalan enthusiasts have not hesitated to describe the Spanish state as ‘fascist’ ‘Francoist’, full of loathing for ‘Madrid’, no doubt hinting that one of George Orwell’s most celebrated books was Homage to Catalonian Independence. Perhaps they trust to at least some of their audience’s ignorance of the Siege of Madrid, which fell some months after Barcelona.

Others, apparently more reasonable, have wheeled out the view that Catalan nationalism is welcoming, “Catalan national feeling is like Scottish in that it is “civic”, non-violent, opening impatiently to the new global world. It’s unlike Scotland – and more “ethnic” – in its passionate emphasis on Catalan language, history and culture.” It will not be source of exclusion, but will find its way back to “intimate” ties with Spain. (Neil Ascherson. Catalans are not alone. Across the world, people yearn to govern themselves .Observer. 24.9.17)

Laclau’s study On Populist Reason (2005) deals with the “nature and logics “ of collective identities. He envisaged the possibility of a People out of a plurality of ‘ethnic identities’, as well as its opposite, “ethno nationalism”. Podemos would not be untrue to this way of thinking to attempt the former. (4)

But those on the left pushing the Catalan separatists have other fish to fry. The SWP argues first and foremost for the dissolution of the Spanish state, as a potential springboard for a wider anti-capitalist struggle.

The damage to the Spanish ruling class that the loss of Catalonia would cause is unimaginable; Catalonia makes a large contribution to the state’s revenues, with 18.8 percent of national GDP. The centrality of national unity to the dominant ideology of the ruling class would also turn the event into a political earthquake. A victory for independence would thus precipitate a crisis of unforeseeable consequences, throwing into chaos not only the PP but Spanish capitalism as a whole.

Socialism can only be achieved internationally, but by opening new prospects for the left in Catalonia and by breaking the consensus imposed by fascism in the transition to democracy, Catalan independence would advance the cause of the entire working class. And, if a triumph of the Catalan left would be a positive development for workers in the rest of the state, what would the consequences of its defeat be?

Héctor Sierra Podemos, Catalonia and the workers’ movement in the Spanish state  Issue: 155

The Fourth Intentional, reproducing an argument familiar to those who have heard the radical Scottish nationalist refrain of the Break up of Britain are vaguer though equally optimistic for the future of the left, and keen for, as they put it, “the democratic rupture throughout the State”.

In a lyrical vein the FI states,

It is more than a mere historical anecdote that the Catalan independence flag is directly inspired by the flag of the Cuban revolutionaries who defeated the Spanish colonial army on the island in the late 19th century, a defeat that would decisively contribute to the ruin of the first Bourbon restoration. The struggle in Catalonia has certainly hurt the second and a republican victory would allow us to imagine a new rise of the popular movement and an update of the anti-capitalist and eco-socialist perspective in Catalonia, the Spanish state and throughout Europe.

Let us support the struggle of the Catalan people

These aspirations are no doubt of comfort to those who, after what El Periodico commentators have repeatedly called a new May 68 – complete with vote – now confront potential economic chaos. Aware of these difficulties the nationalist bourgeois politicians who are running the independence show are divided on their immediate tasks, although the President of the Generalitat, Carles Puigdemont, looks determined to press ahead with a declaration of independence. Sacrifices to achieve that end are to be made in the name of a possible, not yet visible, anti-capitalism, or more broadly the eternal right to self-determination or, in their own eyes, for Catalunya. What is more precious than national independence and sovereignty? 

Many will without hesitation support the wish for negotiations with these demands, hard though the first two may be to put into any specific form. We can be sceptical about Iglesias’ efforts to capture the ‘floating signifier’ of the Patria for the projects of Podemos, yet see in their stand some hopes for compromise. Equally, on some things on which no agreement can be reached: one should do more than just oppose Rajoy and his clampdown, one can moblise against it.

No Sleeping with the Enemy!

But nobody has yet to explain convincingly why the world in general, and the left-wingers in particular, should stand behind the cause of a prosperous region of Spain, led by a coalition of right and left, to ‘take control’ in the name of the People. Rosa Luxemburg reminds us that the ‘right’ to declare this a separate entity rests on the political parties who backed the referendum,  Junts pel Sí​, held together a coalition of right and left, while the Podemos inspired grouping Catalunya Sí que es Pot  abstained, and the other opposition parties opposed it. 

This, if carried through, will be an act that immediately divides the Spanish people, gives full rein to populist ressentiment on all sides, and obscures the issues of the different class and political interests behind the pro-independence bloc (not to mention the ingrained corruption of some of its elements). To put it simply, no left worthy of its name enters into systematic long-term coalitions with right wing nationalists. They are, to use a term often cited by Chantal Mouffe, taken from Carl Schmitt, the enemy.  (5)

LibérationVerified account @libe 6h               

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(1) A useful account of Podemos, which underlines that Laclau and Mouffe are far from the only intellectual influences on the party is in Chapter 10 La Gauche du 21e Siècle, Christophe Aguiton. La Découverte. 2017.

(2) Page 148 –9. Podemos in the Name of the People. Iñigo Errejón and Chantal Mouffe. Lawrence and Wishart. 2016.

(3) See Agonistics. Chantal Mouffe. Verso 2013.

(4) Page 198. On Populist Reason. Ernesto Laclau Verso. 2005.

(5) For all our sympathy for the Podemos attempt at rational dialogue, the concepts of the People, and the National Popular function in this crisis as signs that confuse debate. See. Debating Catalonia Izquierda Unida MP Alberto Garzón debates the Catalan independence referendum with the CUPs Pau Llonch. This is a concrete example of how ‘left wing populism’ sliding around on the Catalan national issue obscures a left strategy that gives priority to building a left. Which leads us to reject the strategy of ‘people’ versus “oligarchy”, the ‘us’ and the ‘them’ and the Mouffe-Laclau problematic: See: Populisme le grand ressentiment. Éric Fassin. Textuel. 2017.

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