Historian Enzo Traverso denounces the cultural supremacy of neo-liberalism imposing “presentism” on the narration of events, meaning that an event is always told in the present, as if there were no causes from which they originated or resulting consequences.
The ‘Estelada’, the flag of Catalan separatism, flown during a student
protest in Barcelona / Photo: JUAN CARLOS CARDENAS (EFE)
So, on October 1st, Europe wakes up to terrible images showing brutal police repression of people that want to peacefully vote in Catalonia; unacceptable images that outraged us all. In this article, I will try to analyse the causes and possible consequences of what is happening in Catalonia and Spain.
Any analysis about present-day Spain has to start with the fact that the country lived under a dictatorship for 40 years. Let me repeat: 40 years. It is an eternity, and it is an exception, because unlike other countries that suffered the dark night of fascism, there was no revolution in Spain (like in Portugal), nor a split that judged and punished the tormentors (like in Argentina), nor a symbolic break from this past (like in South Africa). In Spain, Franco died in his bed. There was no split between fascism and the new democracy. There was a change, but not a break.
Francoism was a dictatorial regime underpinned by a type of fascism a la española, whose ideological basis could be summed up as “national Catholicism”, one pillar of which being the unity of the homeland under a divine purpose. Today this might make us laugh, but for 40 years, the regime repeated, “Spain is a unit of destiny within the Universal”. In this messianic and psychotic concept, the State not only makes it impossible for anyone who thinks differently, but also denies the existence of 3 other nations within Spain: Galicia, the Basque Country, and Catalonia, whose languages were banned, and whose historic rights were trampled.
Upon the dictator’s serine death in 1975, a period of democratic restoration called “the transition” follows: a period of democratic reforms based on a pact between all the political actors of the time (including the Communist Party) that produces an “agreement” leading to the 1978 Constitution. This “transition” is the nation’s pride for three decades, until the 2011 anti-austerity movement calls the 1978 Regime (named after the Constitution that sanctifies it) into question for being corrupt, inefficient, and unjust.
The 1978 Constitution includes the Spanish territorial problem as a concession to federalist demands. The transition’s mythology says that the Communist Party accepts the Monarchy and the royal flag in exchange for the State’s decentralisation and the creation of Autonomous Communities (territorial entities with high levels of self-governance), and even a special status for the “historic communities”, a euphemism used to avoid talking about nations within the State, among which is Catalonia.
The paradox is that the Catalan and Basque bourgeoisie were fundamental pillars of this 1978 Regime, and the natural allies of the Spanish right during the 39 years of democracy.
This means that the same party that today leads the independence movement in Catalonia was for decades the party that helped the Spanish right write the most regressive laws against workers, favouring privatisations, and enthusiastically supporting austerity measures.
The same political party has always governed in Catalonia, with the exception of one brief period. Previously it was called Convergència y Unió (CiU), and now PdeCat (Partido Demócrata Catalán), and it is the declared representative of the interests of the Catalan bourgeoisie. In my opinion, they are breaking their alliance with the Spanish right for 2 reasons:
The key question is why in 2010 were only 20% of Catalans pro-independence, while nearly 50% of them were by 2015? There are various reasons, but one of them is unquestionably the economic crisis’ impact on Catalonia.
Catalonia has always been a wealthy, industrial region. The hegemonic bloc has always been the Catalan bourgeoisie, and their values the dominant ones. The myth of living in a wealthy region with good jobs, where the aspiration of being middle class, and even upper middle class, was a possibility, is a dream that is weakened today under a crisis that makes it impossible for the majority of the population continue believing in this illusion. Job insecurity, high levels of unemployment, deindustrialisation, the excess weight of tourism and its low salaries... All of these things make the material foundations that supported the bourgeoisie’s project vanish into thin air. The idea of independence may be empty of content, but sounds like an exciting project on which we can project our will to change a society sick of losing wages and rights.
The massive pro-independence demonstrations and the passion with which more than two million people went to vote in the referendum, these are things that show us society wants change. Even though I do not share the idea that independence will change anything substantial, we have to understand and respect the fact that it is, at this moment, the legitimate desire of half of Catalonia’s population.
When the Catalan Parliament approved not only the independence referendum, but also a law that already declared how this independence would look, it did so with the votes of 72 Members of Parliament out of 135, representing 47.8% of Catalonia’s voters.
On October 1st, the day of the referendum, we could all see the State’s brutal repression. I believe that on this day, the ghost of PP’s Francoism manifested itself by imposing its unequivocal vision of the State through violence. The actions of the police and the detention of members of the Catalan Government that approved the declaration and independence brings us back to that lack of a clean break, and made clear that the Spanish right was ready to use all weapons available to impede independence.
The saddest thing is that Spain is immersed in very serious problems that no one talks about anymore, not least of which PP’s corruption, and it being judicially shown to be a “criminal organisation”. The Catalan issue drowns everything out. It comes up in all conversations, and it is outlined as being the problem that is going to catalyse everything in our country. This benefits the right, and especially the Ciudadanos party, the leader of the unit of Spain.
The drama turns tragic with Puigdemont (President of Catalonia) escaping to Brussels and, with Rajoy’s dirty play (President of Spain and the PP), the imposition of article 155 of the 1978 Constitution (the right of the State to take control of the territory’s institutions if they do not obey the law) and the calling of elections in Catalonia on December 21st.
For me, it was shocking to see how quickly the pro-independence parties accepted the new elections called for by the State. The question now is whether the pro-independence parties will once again hold a majority in the Catalan Parliament. The situation is politically volatile because it was clear that no European country would support Catalonia’s independence, and because since October 1st, more than 2,000 companies have fled Catalonia, including multi-nationals and the largest banks. We will see what happens on December 21st, but a governing agreement will probably be reached to shelve the independence movement sine die.
The debate on independence establishes a framework of polarisation between nationalist ideologies that leaves the left out of the game. The 1978 Regime’s media has attempted to place the Spanish left in the pro-independence column (which it is not) in order to create two opposing fronts: the parties that defend the 1978 Constitution and Spanish unity (PP, PSOE, Ciudadanos), and those that do not (Unidos Podemos and the pro-independence parties). It is a bad scenario that forecast bad electoral results for the left that Unidos Podemos represents, with a position on this subject that is to me the most reasonable, yet no one wants to talk about it now: a negotiated referendum in which Unidos Podemos would push for a “no” vote on independence. This means that Unidos Podemos does not want Catalan independence, but instead a federal State that respects the right of the Catalans to decide through a referendum. It is a position that is too complex for the vulgarity with which the debate is being carried out in Spain.
Part of the radical left sees in Catalan independence a possibility to cause instability for the Government, and therefore an opportunity to move forward with a proposal to break from the country. This is a minority opinion, but it does exist, and it has actually led to the destitution of Podemos’ leaders in Catalonia (more prone to independence).
The best solution would be to oust the PP from Government and open a process for the creation of a new Spanish constitution, based on a federal system (and republican, in my opinion), because if the Catalonia crisis has taught us anything, it is that the 1978 Constitution has run its course. The 1978 Regime should not continue to govern Spain. Catalonia is a symptom, and we at Unidos Podemos will work to ensure that the solution is solidary and fair, based on a Constitution for all.