09/02/2019 05:00 – Updated: 09/03/2019 15:27
The era of great paradoxes we live in goes the farthest when the concepts themselves end up perverted and meaning the opposite, as a mutation that destroys the soul of words. Nationalism is the opposite of the nation; populism, the opposite of the people, and communism, the opposite of equality, as neoliberalism is the opposite of freedom. Nicolás Sartorius, one of the most veteran politicians in Spain, visible head of the Fundación Alternativas, a “laboratory of Spanish ideas of a progressive and independent nature”, has compiled all these perversions in a book (La manipulación del lenguaje ‘The manipulation of language’, Espasa, 2018) spurred, above all, by the measles of lies that the Catalan independence challenge has brought us. Nicolás Sartorius and Álvarez de las Asturias Bohorques (San Sebastián, May 4, 1938), a communist from the times of hiding under Franco, has the moral authority and vital experience sufficient to alert us to the consequences of a political system that, little by little, is delving into deception. “Because the words in politics weigh, they are facts”, he remarks, and it only takes a few examples, such as ‘negative growth’, that euphemism that induces us to conform to stiffness, or ‘Spanish State’, which subtly denies the very existence of Spain.
QUESTION. Consequently, Mr. Sartorius, it is possible to think that there is a direct relationship between democracy and the manipulation of political language. That is, the greater the manipulation of language, the lower the quality of a democracy. Do you agree?
ANSWER. Exactly. It is inversely proportional, the more language is manipulated, the more democracy is poorer. Language manipulation, as a way of deceiving, is an instrument of power. In dictatorships, for example, manipulation is total, everything is a lie. What worried me was to observe the increase of this phenomenon in democracies, because a democracy has to be transparency and truth, not manipulation and opacity.
Q. Well, you see, perhaps the worst of all is that manipulation increases because people give it credibility, much more in these times of post-truth. Maquiavello already said that “whoever cheats, will always find someone willing to be fooled, everyone will see what it seems to be, and few what it really is”.
A. Let’s see, it is clear that if there are politicians who cheat, it is because there is someone willing to be deceived or simply because the lie they are hearing is doing well in their own interest. Other times, what happens is that whoever propagates the lie has more means than the one who has to defend against it. That is why it is so important to have societies with training, with a critical spirit, to protect themselves from manipulation. Anyway, I say that the media are powerful and, as we have seen these years, economic power or neoliberal political power have had to deceive and lie to make their way. Capitalism is no longer capitalism but ‘market economy’, although there is less and less market and more concentration of wealth. The workers are called ‘middle class’ and the employers, ‘entrepreneurs’.
Q. Has been the manipulation of language by independentism whict has irritated you the most? I tell you because you were a political prisoner in the dictatorship, in the 1001 trial, for being a leader of CCOO and the PCE. Six years in jail…
A. Yes, just over six years in jail… Hearing about polítical prisoners in Catalonia causes me a certain degree of intellectual irritation. In Franco’s dictatorship there were political prisoners, myself among many thousands, but talking about political prisoners in a democracy like Spain is a manipulation, a complete misrepresentation. In a democracy there are no political prisoners, and the proof is in Catalonia itself, where people are not put in jail for their independence ideas. There are no two million people prosecuted … A lie like that of ‘Spain steals from us’, when, in any case, the one who stole and took the money in great quantities were the Catalan nationalist leaders who were 23 years ruling. The ‘Catalan Republic’, the ‘right to decide’… Everything is deception.
Q. In the Transition, one of the great flags was ‘Freedom, amnesty and statute of autonomy’. In fact, that was the motto of Diada de Cataluña in those years. Now, some intend to make it happen, not as a conquest, but as an imposition of Franco.
A. Those who fought most for democracy, for amnesty and for the statute of autonomy were the people of the left. And within Catalonia, the PSUC and CCOO. Of course, I have never seen these nationalists and separatists either in jail or anywhere else. Achieving all that, democracy, autonomy and the freedom we enjoy, was the product of the mobilization of many people, who risked a lot; it was no concession of the dictatorship. And we must be very proud.
Q. Are you, as one of the founders of CCOO, surprised at the flirtation of this union with independence?
A. I do not believe, at all, that CCOO has accepted the independence discourse; there may be some minority sector, as with the left, some part of which is disoriented, but the union as such is very clear about these things. No, no independence. All the approaches that have been made were within the current law, within the Constitution. In addition, the ‘right to decide’, which is another language manipulation, is deeply reactionary. To begin with, ‘right to decide’ does not mean anything, because being a transitive verb they would have to explain what they want to decide, how, when … Self-determination, independence? That is not in any Constitution either of Europe or, if you rush me, or of the world. In the era of globalization, in Europe, defending the separation of a part of the territory is deeply reactionary. If anything, what needs to be done is to unite, and the division affects mostly the common people, the workers and solidarity, a key element of the left.
The more language is manipulated, democracy is poorer. Language manipulation, as a way of deceiving, is an instrument of power
Q. You say it is a reactionary movement. What I have asked myself many times is at what point in history nationalism became leftist. Or vice versa…
A. Nationalism and the left are incompatible. The left has always been internationalist, supportive, fraternal … It has always wanted to unite on the basis of the common interests of the working class. Nationalism has always been a movement of the right, as in Catalonia, of rich people who, based on manipulation and deception, drag other sectors of society.
Q. Well, you see how in Spain nationalism has become a natural ally of the left…
A. Where? I do not see that…
Q. Well, you have many examples, from Congress to many municipalities, through autonomies.
A. One thing is that nationalism, in my opinion, is pernicious to the left and another thing is that, jointly, in a town hall or in a community they could build majorities. But that’s another issue, and they all do it. As in Navarra, if someone refrains this does not presuppose any pact. It is not true, you cannot prevent someone from abstaining. An interested confusion is created by saying that there is a pact, when it is only an abstention. Another thing is that there might be concessions…
Q. Well, you yourself cited Navarra: the PSOE has ceded the city of Huarte to Bildu after obtaining the Foral Government.
A. The most voted in Huarte was the Bildu candidate, and that is what has happened. I don’t know if it was a pact or an invention, but it doesn’t affect the general idea: the left and nationalism are incompatible and nationalism has always been a great enemy of the left.
An interested confusion is created by saying that there is a pact, when it is only an abstention. Quite a different thing is that there could be concessions…
Q. To say that what happened in Catalonia, in the revolt of autumn 2017, was a coup d’etat is also a manipulation of language?
A. Coup d’etat? I, of course, do not say it… What there was in Catalonia was a Parliament, with a very small majority, which for a couple of days decided to liquidate the Constitution, the statute of autonomy and European legislation, which is also internal law of Spain and we never say it. But did they put it into practice? Obviously not; some of them escaped from Spain and others… They were declarative things, and call it ‘coup d’etat’, nope. There was an attempt to modify the legislation, but nothing was put into practice.
Q. By that rule of three, neither was Tejero’s a coup d’etat because, in the same way, it did not prosper.
A. In the case of Tejero there was an element of armed violence, shots, tanks in the street… It is not comparable. My impression is that the rebellion is not clear and that it probably does not go that way in the sentence. In my opinion, to say that this was a ‘coup d’etat’ is not a precise concept to define what happened, but, in any case, it is debatable; and it is not an example of language manipulation. But transcending the qualification, which will have to be decided by the judges, the move of Catalonia is the result of a combination of elements, from the modification of the statute of autonomy by the Constitutional Court after the referendum, – these things must be done beforehand -, to the key element for everything that, in my opinion, is the neoliberal policy that was imposed in Europe since the 1980s with Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, and that is what has led to the economic crisis of 2008. That has generated in many social sectors a sense of insecurity, inequality, lack of protection, fear for the future of their children. It already happened in the thirties, and it was the origin of fascism, of Nazism, leading us to war. The national populism of these days is the consequence of neoliberal policies, which erode democracy and create inequalities, and until that is changed, it will be very difficult to defeat it.
It is the neoliberal policy that was imposed in Europe since the 1980s, with Thatcher and Reagan, which has led to the economic crisis of 2008
Q. I think it’s the first time I hear that the roots of the 2008 ‘financial tsunami’ are in Reagan and Thatcher…
A. There begins the great neoliberal offensive against trade unions, against the social conquests of Keynesianism after World War II, privatizations and deregulations in favor of the ‘open bar’ of financial power … That offensive is what leads us to the great crisis of 2008. Reagan and Thatcher are not directly guilty, but with them that casino capitalism policy, that financial orgy began. All this implies a frontal attack on the welfare state and without the welfare state there is no democracy. This is the underlying issue, the serious; the other issues are anecdotes arising here or there.
It is nonsense that in Spain we get into the year 2020 without Government. It is reckless.
Q. And the left, where have it been during all that time?
A. All this has taken the left in a very weak position. The collapse of the USSR meant the practical disappearance of all communist parties in Europe, and the social democracy, with the ‘third way’, adapted some elements of neoliberalism. If we add to all that the lack of a strong and united trade union movement in Europe…
Q. And you think that now the left is giving answers to the real problems that arise in society?
A. The left has some serious shortcomings of analysis to understand the phenomenon of globalization. Not all of that reality has been assumed: global markets, global technologies and global approaches. The left has to return to a new internationalism, and if it does not, it will not be left anymore. That is why I understand so little that there are people on the left who declare themselves anti-globalization. What does that mean? That they do not want the Internet? It is absurd, in addition to stupidity. Globalization is the result of progress, of science and technology, and the battle, theoretical and practical, is to do with the real meaning this globalization is given, towards which interests it is directed. Let it be an inclusive, democratic, supportive globalization… That is where the left has to move forward, because the solution of the problems depends on that, not on ridiculous approaches of small nation states or absurd anti-globalization positions.
In the case of Podemos, the problem is in a weaker party becoming ally with a stronger party; in that case it will lose electorally
Q. And the right? Have they adapted better to globalization?
A. Well, economic powers are generally in the right, so they do not have to adapt because they are the ones who carry out globalization. Carlos Marx said that motto of “united proletarians of the world”, but those who have joined together have been the capitalists. Capitalism is already global, while political parties, unions and democracies are not global, they are in a position of inferiority.
Q. Let’s finish: are you able to predict whether or not there will be elections in November?
R. The elections, the elections … let’s see, this country needs a government because you cannot be without a government when the sentence of the trial of 1-0 in Catalonia is issued and with the situation in Europe with Brexit. But, in addition, I think it is essential to transcend a little, get away from our internal issues, and contemplate what is happening in the world, from all points of view, military, economic, social… In the midst of all that, it is nonsense that in Spain we enter in the year 2020 without Government. And more than nonsense, it is reckless. I am in favor of a progressive government agreement, with a formula like that of the Portuguese. I also say this because I am convinced that a coalition government is negative for both of them, for the PSOE and for Podemos; In my opinion, both parties will be harmed. In the case of Podemos, because all the historical experience shows that when a weaker party is co-operating with a stronger party, which is the one that carries the political guidelines, it then loses electorally. There are examples throughout Europe with the Communist Party. I do not understand that obsession of Podemos with having several ministers, unless something unconstitutional is intended, such as building two governments in one. For the PSOE, it is also not positive for this same reason, because of the risk that they intend to ‘create’ two governments.
I don’t understand that obsession of Podemos with having several ministers, unless something unconstitutional is intended, like forming two governments in one
Q. Maybe what happens is that nobody is thinking about the Government; The PSOE thinks of other elections that can return it to bipartisanship and Podemos thinks that the ‘parallel Government’ is its last chance to take a sorpasso.
A. Well, if so, the two are wrong. New elections will give us a very similar political landscape; short-term bipartisanship is an entelechy. And, honestly, I don’t think we can still be in the idea of sorpasso. On the left there is room for both of them, and what they have to do is respect each other and agree on a common program, which is the best for both.