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Commentary :: International
Nationalism as a fetish
04 Oct 2017
On the question of Catalan independence
Click on image for a larger version

“The essential problem is that people outside the Basque country do not, generally, undestand the basque problem. For this reason, every time we came in contact with people from Madrid or Barcelona, things would always stop there. As soon as we begun the converstation, we no longer understood each other. The question of armed struggle, for example, is not at all clear for them. And when we finally get to the national question, they see things in a way which is completely different from ours. They see things from the stand-point of the Spanish bourgeoisie, and are incapable of understanding that the basque people are subject to a very particular kind of oppression”.

From the book, Operation “Dragon”: How and why ETA executed prime minister Carrero Blanco

It has always been difficult for me to understand what makes the Catalans believe they can obtain so easily, what the Basques have shed rivers of blood over the years to achieve, but without being able to force the Spanish state into retreat. The Catalans' conviction that they can claim their independence by using "legal" means, reveals both the political naivety of the secessionist tendencies, as well as the reactionary content of Catalan nationalism. The unmistakable certainty behind the latest actions of the Catalan political elite is that Spain is a "democracy" and that in a "democratic" regime, any political decision which is the result of electoral or referendum procedures, through which the will of the majority manifests itself, must necessarily be respected and become the starting point for the unfolding of political developments. This fantasy is the supreme triumph of the heteronomous social imaginary of representative "democracy", since it is very clear that the heteronomous social strata themselves are possessed by a distorted faith in the regime that reproduces their institutionalized subordination and attribute to it a dimension of volunteerism and reciprocity which does not exist in heteronomic hierarchical structures. All governments, without exception, claim to serve and not to rule, and always claim to govern by virtue of the consent of their subjects. Thus, the historic moment in which the governed are actually convinced that they are free and no longer comprehend their lack of freedom, constitutes the culmination of the cultural hegemony of institutionalized heteronomy, but also its material boundary. And this is because once the governed begins behaving as an autonomous social agent that is not subjected to any external limitations, this action automatically causes the reaction of institutionalized power and the need for its re-imposition.
Are we to think that the political leaders who have devised the strategy behind the Catalan campaign for self-determination, consider that the Basques could not break away from Spain because they did not ask for it politely enough? Or perhaps the kind of independence that the Basques were fighting for, is not the same as what the Catalan neo-bourgeoisie is now seeking. However, what must be taken into account is that the public debate on the "legitimacy" of the referendum proclaimed by the Catalan regional government, presupposes that the Spanish state actually constitutes a "voluntary" union that even Bakunin would be envious of, from which someone can withdraw or enter at will. It also implies the extremely unlikely possibility that the Spanish state itself has introduced the legislative and constitutional means to undermine its own sovereignty and bring about its self-dissolution. However, the current capitalist "crisis" has a way to refine the concepts and to clarify the meanings, since it involves the general restructuring of the material living conditions through which the heteronomous social example of the market economy system is reproduced. Even if it lasts for two hundred years, colonialism does not change in its core and it is not slow to reveal its appalling face, as soon as the subordinate peoples demonstrate the slightest will to resist its authority.
As with the State, passive acceptance and sanctification through the power of habit, are those elements that guarantee the long-term longevity of heteronomous regimes. With the violent reshaping of the system on a planetary level, the old wounds between Catalonia and the Spanish state are opened again. But let us not imagine that there is any similarity between Catalan nationalism and the Basque nation's liberation movement. As one of the most prosperous regions of Spain, Catalonia was called upon to bakroll with its contributions the substantial public deficits of the state budget created by the bail-out of the banking system in the countries of the EU's economic semi-periphery. At the same time, public investment in infrastructure and services in the region was dramatically reduced due to the austerity programs imposed by the European Directorate. The Catalan neo-bourgeois reiterated their fiery passion for the Catalan national identity, amidst their indignation about the corruption and incompetence of the Spanish political elite and about the disproportionate tax burdens that they had to bear eversince the systemic crisis errupted.
It is not by accident that the campaign for self-determination has so much resonance among the upper and middle classes of the cities, as well as among the social class of entrepreneurs in the region. Nor can it be mere coincidence that the Catalan nationalist party seems to have so much confidence in the institutional framework and formal procedures of representative "democracy". Bullets and dynamite, organized civil disobedience and the chaotic mass violence of Kale Borroka, reflected the radical content of Basque nationalism, the subversive social goals it wanted to bring about, and the antisystemic way in which it understood the demand for self-determination. On the other hand, the naive approach of the Catalan nationalists, the persistence in the use of strictly legal means, and the well-intentioned non-violent demonstrations of the advocates of independence, clearly show that the Catalan nationalists perceive the issue as involving nothing more than a mere modification of the legal status of the region. A "civilized" transition to a social and economic regime which will be identical with the previous one, which can be resolved even through the "noble" mediation of EU institutions and actors.
It goes without saying that we support the right of every people to self-determination. However, we believe it is our duty to openly state that no major change will occur in the social conditions of the subordinate classes in Catalonia, even if the independence movement somehow manages to prevail over the Spanish state. As L. van der Walt wrote, "We [anarchists] oppose state repression of anti-imperialist movements, as we reject the right of the state to decide what is, and what is not, legitimate protest. However, it is no liberation if all that changes is the colour or the language of the capitalist class".i


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