Manuel Cruz, 6 December 2021
Pedro Sánchez with Pere Aragonès. (Reuters/Nacho Doce).
Catalonia: when defeat is not victory
Bearing in mind that ours is an autonomous state, what if our horizon should be that constitutionalism as a whole should become a federalist constitutionalism?
The perspective of almost a decade since Artur Mas called those early autonomous elections in 2012 with which he kick-started the ‘procés’ is beginning to provide us with enough material to sketch out some assessments, however provisional they may always have to be.
A first conclusion can be drawn, with little room for error: the idea of independence, celebrated at first by its promoters as a very effective battering ram to sow discord and division in all the political forces that opposed it (with the early flight to ERC by socialists then labelled as fractious, or the definitive ruin of Duran Lleida’s always misleading and overvalued Unió Democràtica de Catalunya as the most outstanding episodes), has ended up sowing discord and division also among those who encouraged it, who now see how the supposedly shared goal of secession not only does not constitute sufficient cement to repair the cracks that keep appearing in their own bloc, once so solid in appearance, but is the fundamental reason for its cracking. A good example of this is the generalised reproach of being a traitor towards anyone who, despite being in favour of secession, shows the slightest disagreement with the specific drift followed by the ‘procés’ in recent times. It would be in the interest of these same pro-independence supporters, once so proud, to begin to consider to what extent what they liked to interpret in terms of the latest utopia available was in reality nothing more than a deeply toxic and divisive idea, as the evolution of events themselves has revealed.
Indeed, given the course that things have taken, one should not rule out the possibility that the only balance left by the ‘procés’ was not of a material nature, but exclusively ideological: it would have provided, according to this hypothesis, an epic narrative for those sectors of Catalan society that were never able to join, in their own right, the anti-Franco epic. This is probably why they now insist so much on their nonsensical approach of identifying our democracy with the Turkish regime, presenting themselves as the most legitimate heirs of the struggle against the dictatorship. This probably also explains their current insistence on slogans, such as amnesty and the end of the alleged repression, which subliminally try to evoke the language of the Transition (you know: “Freedom, Amnesty, Statute of Autonomy”).
And, of course, this seems to be related to the sudden enthusiasm with which they have joined Podemos’ recent initiative to reinterpret the 1977 Amnesty Law as if it had been a ruse by Franco’s repressors to get off scot-free, and as if the policy of national reconciliation promoted by the PCE since 1956 had never existed. In other words, and to sum up this attitude: from thinking in terms of the last available utopia, independentism has come to be content to see itself as the last available epic, all the more so since it has realised that, from the point of view of practical politics, it is not even capable of moving forward with budgets exclusively with its own.
And, of course, this seems to be related to the sudden enthusiasm with which they have joined Podemos’ recent initiative to reinterpret the 1977 Amnesty Law as if it had been a ruse by Franco’s repressors to get off scot-free and as if the policy of national reconciliation promoted by the PCE since 1956 had never existed. In other words, to sum up this attitude: from thinking in terms of the last available utopia, independentism has become content to see itself as the last available epic, all the more so since it has realised that, from the point of view of practical politics, it is not even capable of moving forward with budgets exclusively with its own.
But ‘available’ is not synonymous with ‘credible’, not even if we are talking about epic. And, although in times of ‘fake news’ nothing should surprise us, fortunately reality is stubborn and does not accept to be moulded without offering some resistance. Thus, not to go back to previous generations (Nicolás Sartorius recently declared that in the six years he spent in prison during Franco’s regime he never met any separatist there), we could refer to the aforementioned promoter of the whole ‘procés’, the former president Artur Mas. Well, reconstructing his career, he himself recounted in an interview granted to the magazine ‘L’Avenç’ in 2014 that in his time as a university student in the mid-1970s he rarely went to the faculty because he was very uncomfortable with the fact that so much politics was being done there. Bearing in mind that the only politics that took place in the classrooms at that time was carried out by anti-Francoists, Mas’s approach was revealing (probably to his regret). It was, in fact, the argument systematically used by right-wing students who were reluctant to acknowledge their status as such, as anyone who went to university in those same years will be able to corroborate.
Hence our previous assertion. The narrative of the ‘procés’ as an anti-Francoist epic has a double target audience. On the one hand, those who, “tired of living well”, to use the words of the title of Albert Soler’s book, which suggest that the majority support for independence is to be found in the better-off sectors of Catalan society, the only thing they know about Francoism is what they have been told by their elders, because, due to their age, they did not have time to live through it. And some of their elders – specifically, those who have held positions of educational, cultural and media power in recent years – have told them that Franco’s dictatorship was the moment of maximum intensification of Spain’s secular attack on Catalonia. On the other side, there are those who, precisely because they did live through that period and have little objective reason to boast, seem anxious to rewrite history and occupy in the story the place they never occupied in reality.
Claiming the status of protagonists of the most eminent episode in a history of defeats is an autumnal consolation.
It remains to be seen whether the two recipients will embrace this epic with equal enthusiasm. It is certainly not clear. Because it doesn’t seem that the new generations are in favour of it, at least if we look at what the polls are telling us. Nothing could be easier to understand than such an attitude. And the fact is that, if you think about it, claiming to be the protagonists of the most eminent episode, after 1714, in a history of defeats is a decidedly autumnal consolation.
In any case, constitutionalism would be wrong to celebrate this latest defeat as its own victory. Independentism was defeated by some economic powers (fundamentally, the banks and companies that left Catalonia in 2017) and some powers of the State (with its leadership at the head), but not by politics itself, which suffered yet another of the many failures it has accumulated in recent times. From the political non-victory of constitutionalism, the latter should draw its own lessons, as it urges independentism to do from its defeat. However, neither the one nor the other seem to be in the mood, but rather by their ambiguous gestures, which they then offer to the public for them to interpret as they wish, as if they were an oracle.
An alternative to independence
Thus, the scandal symmetrical to the lies of the ‘procés’ is the resounding silence that the right-wing in this country has maintained throughout this time regarding its proposal to try to channel the political conflict in Catalonia. Because we must ask ourselves, with all the clarity necessary, the question: what if one of the factors that has most hindered a solution to the conflict has been precisely the fact that constitutionalism as a whole has not been able to offer an alternative to independence? This is not a casual symmetry because, in the same way that the pro-independence supporters have embodied one of the main evils of current politics, that of a blind emotivism that puts everything down to activating certain registers related to sentimentality (the reactivation in recent days of the language issue is good proof of this), the impotence to reach agreements with which to confront it is expressive of the tactical short-sightedness that seems to affect practically all our politicians.
Indeed, the consequences of tacticism and the inability to integrate anything other than the short term (i.e. the next elections, if not the next budgets) into the analysis have brought us to a situation in which the triumph of the alternative is no longer equivalent to the expectation of a possible solution, but to the repetition of the mistakes under the opposite sign. That is why it is now a question of trying to get politics out of the impasse in which the stubbornness of some and others has placed it. Some will say, with some justification, that if this is the problem, the solution lies in putting on the high beam and looking beyond the immediate. But this is still not enough, because it is not enough to include in the analysis a greater number of elements of reality if the values that protect this analysis are not also included. Which is to say: it is not enough to take politics out of the noisy splash that some people have turned it into.
Consequently, we must go beyond the mere demand for consensus on matters of particular importance that affect us all: we must demand the dignity of politics and, if the major parties do not truly embrace this principle to its ultimate consequences, there will be no remedy. Those of us who in recent years have been advocating federalism in the public square as the best way of organising our common life have tried to do so from this perspective. For many of us, federalism is far from being a partisan choice. And this is not because of the obvious fact that without a great agreement between the major political formations there can never be the constitutional reform that is urgently needed in this country. It is not a question of calculation. It is a question of truly believing – as the various political forces, coming from cultures that were not always entirely democratic, truly believed in democracy during the Transition – in the values that underpin not just politics, but the very fact of living together.
All of the above are not, although it may seem at first glance to many, abstract lucubrations, almost metaphysical musings of someone who lacks the principle of reality necessary to function in politics. On the contrary, it is written without for a moment taking a sideways glance at my most immediate reality, the reality of Catalonia. Abandoning tacticism and sectarianism in this case implies abandoning, on the part of all formations, the pretension of hegemonising constitutionalism. As far as we know, there is only one basic proposal on the table to find a solution to the (mis)named Catalan problem, that of federalising the State. Well, no one should claim a monopoly on this proposal. It is clear that one can be left-wing while being radically Jacobin (just ask our neighbours on the other side of the Pyrenees), just as one can adopt a federalist approach from conservative positions (as the case of Germany, to name but one example, clearly demonstrates). But, bearing in mind that ours is an autonomous State, perhaps the question we have to face can only be this: what if our horizon should be that constitutionalism as a whole should decisively become a federalist constitutionalism?
All this, we insist, is raised in the name of certain values, starting with those that were upheld during the Transition, when the horizon of concord among Spaniards took precedence over any other, but without ending there. But just as important (or more so: as foundational, as constitutive of our times) are those with which the French revolutionaries sought to lay the foundations of the modern world, with fraternity in a very prominent place. For it is with fraternity that federalism has to do. Or, to put it in a form for which I confess a special weakness: federalism represents the political form of fraternity.