Interview Martin Alonso 11/07/2020
By Peru Erroteta
Retired high school teacher. He has worked on human rights, political violence, nationalism, memory and social suffering; this aspect linked to the neoliberal unequal logics. Among his writings: Universals of hatred, A cultural history of the crisis or Catalanism, from success to ecstasy.
What can be said about identity, in a world connoted precisely by identity fusion, or whatever we want to call it?
Identity has an acceptable semantic nucleus, the psychological one, and many suspicious extrapolations. There are those who postulate even an identity left … But identity breaks with political philosophy, which establishes that the fundamental dimensions refer to the social register (vertical axis). Instead, the identity framework is articulated around the opposition “us and them” (horizontal axis). Some examples: in 1989, Milosevic takes advantage of a centenary to launch the Greater Serbia program; Srebrenica is produced in 1995. Less crude: the Brexit referendum has split the United Kingdom in two, and not along the ideological axis. In Israel, heir to the greatest identity catastrophe, politics is defined by the ethno-nationalist framework of the settlers, the lords of the land. They are identity logics that fracture and polarize. The identity, should be accompanied by a warning, “seriously damages civic health.” And the other: the insidious fear of not being “enough of ours”.
Burned other cartridges, identity ends up being the last ammunition to which nationalisms resort?
In politics, identity complicates things a lot. Brubaker argues that the search for a global ‘architectural’ solution to national conflicts is foolish; it is an illusion, as the Wilsonian invention of self-determination has already shown. When social problems become identity, Sami Nair adds, there is no solution. What happens if Catalonia becomes independent? Would not those inconsistent spaces invoke the same logic? Where to stop recursion? Nationalism, the political expression of identity, is ultimately reduced to a tautology (“We are us”). There is no defined mapping of ‘we’. Tomorrow anyone can be a pro-spaniard or ‘botifler’. Like Albert Boadella or Albert Soler. Or the Minister of the Interior, who had to leave the Perpignan rally when Ponsatí cheered on the heroes of Urquinaona. The terrible thing about this is that we are all vulnerable. Frege, founder of mathematical logic, swallowed the Nazi lies. The destructive power of identity logics is awesome; a poison, as Zweig called it. There are no immune spaces; Let’s remember, with Zweig, the history of the 20th century.
Does not facing identitarianism, as it happens with racism, machismo, and other atavisms, force us to remain in constant preventive alert?
The concept “identity” was coined by E. Erikson in the 1960s from psychoanalysis to refer to the crisis of adolescence. From there it is transferred to the social plane. Its seduction stems from that identitarianism, like populism, offers a psychological reward. It tells you that you belong to the chosen category. Muriel Casals addressing municipal candidates in May 2015: “You will be the first elected to form a new independent State.” Basque nationalism instituted privilege as an identity attribute. The “eighth candlestick” was for Pemán Spain, the nation chosen by God. Prevention is de rigueur. All nationalisms are considered superior, they exploit the narcissism of small differences. That is where the sovereign expectorations of Urkullu and Torra go, after the measures against Covid-19.
Does it play a special role in the production of identity, an ideological machinery attached to academicism?
Hobsbawm spoke of the invention of tradition. When France ceased to be a sanctuary for ETA, it became, according to Tasio Erkizia, “a secular enemy of Euskal-Herria”. The Basque conflict can refer to the Civil War, the Carlist wars, the conquest of Navarra or beyond. Ibarretxe holds the lehendakari Aguirre chair at the University of the Basque Country. From there he disseminates the abertzale vision in an example of para-diplomacy that knows Catalonia well. We owe him the thesis that people with identity do things better. The academic field is versatile: it can criticize impostures or create and favor them. 40% of SS officers had completed university studies (the German average was 2%). Leaving aside the contributions of the Institut Nova Història, the cast of the “Spain against Catalonia” Symposium was brimming with academic credentials; Like Clara Ponsatí, in parallel, for the sociology of incentives, the “Procés” is a succulent site of both employment and status (prestigious identity). It is the material infrastructure of identity mysticism.
Do populist neo-nationalisms from around the world make up a kind of international identity?
There are various formulations. For example, the Marine Le Pen party defends a welfare state only for the French; in Italy, Salvini (ex-communist who emblazoned with the ‘Che’ shirt and ikurriña in his youth) joins us first; in Hungary and Poland, a nationalism with Catholicism or runaway neo-liberalism. Something that also sounds in Spain with Vox. And in Catalonia, with the inspiration of Montserrat and the music that was the victim of genocide, composed by J. Benet. What they have in common is identity bipolar logic, that is why Puigdemont shares grammar with Flemish nationalists.
And the understandable left, supplying ideological fuel, legitimizing …
There are elements of colonialism that must be condemned, but part of the studies on post-colonialism and multiculturalism have fragmented emancipatory struggles and disoriented the left. The latest version of Catalan nationalist exceptionalism is homo-nationalism, compared to Spanish nationalism, which is “heterosexual and patriarchal” and, of course, reactionary. Much of the left has assumed the grammar of rich nationalisms, even in the allergy to using the name of Spain. Peripheral nationalisms would be left-wing and progressive. It would turn out then that the Andalusians, the Galicians and the spinners of the emptied Spain, partly due to Franco’s economic policy, would be the exploiters of Catalans and Basques. Curious form of colonialism.
What to say about the withdrawal proposed by Fusaro, who is not disgusted by sectors of environmentalism and the left?
I do not know enough Fusaro’s argumentation to pronounce on the matter. Where Marx is worth recovering is in his endeavor to fight for conditions for equality within a common political framework and guarantor of social rights. After the 2008 crisis, wealth has recovered, but at the same time inequality has increased. The platform employment contract is something very close to slavery. Even in Davos there has been talk of domesticating capitalism. But how are we going to do it if we maintain neoliberal orthodoxy? It is symptomatic that the neoliberal revolution was born from the hand of the Trilateral Commission in the same years as the concept of identity.
Do we think like in the XIX, in the XXI century?
For the first time in history, three generations of Europeans have been without war, largely due to the reduction of inequalities, with the social program designed after the catastrophe. But we have to refine the instruments with which we have been analyzing recent events. Only twenty years ago the dominant paradigm of political science was “transitology”: a new historical teleology disclosed by Fukuyama. The new is eco-nocracy, which has undermined the role of the state as guarantor of equality. Hayek is one of the most pernicious figures, returning to the responsibility of academics: he applauded Pinochet and inspired the Thatcherian policies that affirmed that society does not exist and the TINA. He founded the Mont Pèlerin Society, which has served as a backbone for the neoliberal apostolate. (Aznar is one of his flashy members.) Jonathan Aldred tells it in “How economics corrupted us”. Herder (prophet of difference: horizontal exclusion) and Hayek (prophet of inequality: vertical exclusion), the allied riders – again Ponsati – of the Apocalypse.