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Home » Content » Interview with Alberto Garzón: Has the left made a a mistake in buying Catalan nationalism, its speech, when it has, per se, an internationalist vocation? “The left has made the mistake of romanticizing peripheral nationalisms”
The left that I defend is not nationalist. I do not believe that the main fracture is what identity we have in cultural terms, but in material terms: if we are rich or poor, if we are working class or capitalist, to simplify. And Spain is not only Castilla, nor Madrid: Spain is many more things. Spain is Andalusia, Basque Country, Catalonia, etc. It is true that the left has made a mistake and has been idealizing peripheral nationalisms, there is a feeling that they are emancipatory: I do not think so.

November 26, 2019 03:37

Lorena G. Maldonado

Alberto Garzón, federal coordinator of Izquierda Unida, presents Who votes on the right? (Peninsula), an essay that addresses how the PP, Citizens and Vox seduce the middle classes and tries to dismantle the topic that conservatives grow by the support of the working class: in his research he maintains that those responsible for the rise of the rightists comes from those privileged who fear losing their status, not from the average working class currito. We chat with the economist and essayist about the bait of national identity, a less and less sexy left and several cultural controversies: appropriation, thorny symbols -like the flag-, censorship and politicization of the national artists. From Rosalia to the Joker through the aspiration of the trap.

The main thesis of the book is that the working class is blamed for voting on the right and you blame it on the middle class, why has this confusion occurred?

Well, there is a spectacular element in thinking that the worker, who is supposed to vote on the left, votes on the right. And it is true that all parties reach all social strata, you can find a worker who votes on the right, but in Spain, what the research shows, is that class behavior (this identifying that the working class votes on the left and the upper-middle class, for example, senior managers, vote on the right) exists. It exists, has strength and is maintained over time although it has lost relevance with respect to what happened 30 years ago. This is reflected in the last elections. It is not forever, there are mutations: we have seen a turn that begins to be worrying and that is that Vox begins to penetrate some popular sectors, especially in those places where anti-immigration discourse has penetrated. It tries to imitate the trajectory of the French National Front, which does have a higher penetration in the working class, but so far Vox is a party that has a class composition very similar to that of the PP and Citizens. A class composition that derives from being an ultraconservative, ultranationalist and ultraliberal party so far.

However, when the voter profile of Podemos is studied, we conclude that he is a citizen with a university education and upper-middle class as well. How do you explain it?

Sure. The left bloc is more voted by the working class, but there are differences. The party really closest to the working class is the socialist party – the most voted by the working class. What is the radical left (the one that represented the Communist Party, IU and Unidas Podemos, today) surprisingly maintains a very similar class composition and its strength is not in the working class. It is in segments of the middle class, in socio-cultural professions, who are university professors, teachers in secondary schools, artists, singers, film directors, actors … in that type of sector the more radical active left has more strength. The really existing working class (not the “myth” or the one in the leftist speeches) is much more moderate than the radical left.

We interviewed Nega, from Chikos del Maíz, and the headline was that Ana Rosa and Susana Griso were to blame for the unemployed workers voting to the right. How do you value this statement and what influence do the media, especially television, have on that vote?

There is a logic in recent decades and that is that politics is very mediated. The logic of the audiovisual media is very spectacular, it is a logic that pays the same attention to an eviction as to the conflicts in Catalonia, but the pattern is that it must attracts attention, that it wakes up; it is a very short-term logic. That makes politics contaminated and restricted to very limited codes, instead of making a serene debate based on arguments. We are very simplistic. In the recent case of Catalonia, there have been televisions that have done up a sequence shot of what was happening, exalting the spirits, especially the nationalists. It is perverse and of course this type of program has some influence on the socio-cultural formation of people, but I would not give it much attention. The left, in the last decades, has been institutionalized and has left aside the places where normal people are present: bars, work centers, parks, places where people gather to make life are the places where the Left has been disappearing from. For example, the PCE, in its fight against Francoism, found its strength in that it encompassed the entire capillary network of society. That is what has been lost and is a problem. If you have that under control and you are present in people’s daily lives, the discourse of the big televisions will not affect you, which, I insist, will push you to the right as well as to the left, depending on what they are focused on.

Do you think that on the left there is an idealization of the working class? Obviously there are gays who vote on the right, even the radical; and workers, and there is even a Cameroonian man, Bertrand Ndongo, in Vox. Why not assume that there are also fascist and sexist and homophobic and racist workers

Of course, because the existing working class is fractured in itself, it is heterogeneous. Not everyone gives priority to the same things when voting. Contemporary societies are divided into classes, in my view, but it is not the only division that exists: there are religious, ethnic divisions … and there is a fundamental division to understand what happens in Spain, which is the national division. And there are many workers who in these elections have voted more thinking about the flag than in their own job. The national and identity component has extraordinary strength. There is a left that effectively speaks to a working class that does not exist, it is the working class of nostalgia; It probably never existed, because it refers to a working class capable of emancipating itself from society and that is much more complex than what the cartoon represents.

In the book you say that the crisis caused by capitalism and its consequent inequality generate a sense of little cohesion, of little solidity, and that favors the more patriotic or Spanish nationalist parties. There is a national identity boom. Will the left ever recover this idea?

The problem of our country is that during the last 200 years almost all political victories have been victories of the right. The left, the progressives or the liberals, depending on the time, have won very few times: in the nineteenth century against absolutism in the triennium, in the progressive biennium and in the La Gloriosa revolution. Three short and brief victories in the nineteenth century and in the twentieth century in the Second Republic and the Transition, to some extent. The rest have been victories of the conservative right, which has imposed its own vision of Spain. A notion based on the idea of ​​a traditionalist Spain that drank from absolutism, religion, prohibition, centralism; a Spain that later synthesized Menendez Pelayo very well: a Spain that faces an anti-spain. The external enemy was replaced at the end of the 19th century by the internal enemy: the Catalans, the Basques, the Communists, the Republicans … that conception of Spain has been inoculated through many cultural productions, not only do I speak of great intellectuals, but of theater, of cinema, of television.

That conception of Spain is very reactionary and does not understand that Spain is pluri-national and diverse. But in history there have also been other conceptions of the country and they have come from the left. Federal republicanism and the labor movement have defended another conception of Spain, but have lost battles and sometimes war and have been annihilated. The left does not have a problem with the concept of “nation”, the problem is that the process of “Spanish nationalization” has been conservative. Hereinafter? We have to be pragmatic. In Spain there are people who feel Spanish and others who feel Basque or Galician or Catalan and this is overlapping: you will not find any way to compartmentalize it. Through dialogue we must build a State that allows for the coexistence and pacification of these diverse realities.

Will the left come to terms with the flag of Spain sometime? It is true that it has been used in demonstrations against abortion or against the LGBT collective, can that wake be cleaned or must we start from scratch with a new flag?

Of course, the symbolic is political. The red.yellow flag did not generate any problems, for example, to the federal republicanism of the 19th century. And the First Republic had the red-yellow flag and did not generate any problems. In fact, the red-yellow flag was replaced by the tricolor to symbolize a change of stage, and, by the way, the purple was incorporated to try to represent Castilla. Regardless of the historical causes, it is clear that the red-yellow flag has been used in a partisan way by a part of this country that has taken over the idea of ​​Spain and its symbols. The problem on our right is that it is undemocratic and believes that Spain is theirs and that everything else is anti-Spain. They understand that I am a traitor, that the Catalans are traitors, that the reds, the Republicans, the communists are traitors.

That’s why they insult you with the flag as if the Spanish flag offended me. This is the result of previous processes. I have no problem with this flag nor with any other. It is one more expression. We have to redefine our country, and that could only be done with a democratic right, but PP and Citizens have thrown themselves into the arms of a radical right and, in fact, they have been the ones creating Vox with that drift. But if at some point the Spanish democratic right were tolerant of a pluri-national Spain, it would approach the flag.

We all could share the flag.

Yes, if what you defend is a kinder Spain, many may feel represented by the symbol; but if what you defend is a reactionary Spain that draws Spanish flags against the dialogue, you are taking sides.

Has the left made a mistake in buying Catalan nationalism, its speech, when it has, per se, an internationalist vocation?

The left that I defend is not nationalist. I do not believe that the main fracture is what identity we have in cultural terms, but in material terms: if we are rich or poor, if we are working class or capitalist, to simplify. The problem is that the Spanish left (which never triumphed in its attempt to nationalize the country) approached peripheral nationalisms as a way to fight against that strong and reactionary Spain. It was not only Menéndez Pelayo who codified the reactionary concept of Spain, but even more positive visions such as that of Ortega and Gasset said that Spain was Castile, that the backbone was Castile. And Spain is not only Castilla, nor Madrid: Spain is many more things. Spain is Andalusia, Basque Country, Catalonia, etc. It is true that the left has made a mistake and has been idealizing peripheral nationalisms, there is a feeling that they are emancipatory: I do not think so, although I can tell the differences between a PNV that is nationalist but is democratic and a Vox that is nationalist and undemocratic.

What cultural references does the left have right now? Is he going through a good or a bad time?

I think that politics has been institutionalized so much that the scope of civil society has been forgotten. The PCE in anti-Francoism was very might and powerful not only in the field of singer-songwriters, so to speak in a cartoon way, but also in painters, artists, writers, university professors … that civil society was articulated for a project of country; but that has broken down in recent decades. Today there are cultural references that, as in politics, are becoming more individualistic. We do not talk about avant-garde sectors but strong leadership. The emergence of Vox has caused many people who had been silent to start saying things. Rosalía’s famous tweet saying “fuck Vox”, for example…

Or the famous comment of Calamaro saying Come on, Vox.

Of course. There is a politicization of culture again, and culture is always political. There is no apolitical culture, it is always inserted in power relations. In that sense we are moving towards politicization, but the left lacks strong references: I think it is being built, there is a generational change, I see references in hip hop, in the trap, in songwriters (as always in our country) … but the truth is that there are no major movements as we could identify in that rock culture of the eighties or even the singer-songwriters of the Transition.

Is it useful for Rosalia to criticize Vox? Does the opinion of his idol really influence the voter?

I think it questions things. If your musical referent thinks something, it does not mean that you are going to think the same, there are still people who get upset, but … today I was reading that Rozalén complained that they had criticized her for making a comment about Vox. But for Rosalia to say that, it makes people wonder about things, question and become politicized. The extreme right has managed to normalize many things. The problem is that real liberalism has not existed in our country, Anglo-Saxon liberalism has had crystallization in our country with Cudadanos, who tried for a couple of years, then Albert Rivera left it to postulate a Spanish ultra-nationalism.

That liberalism that your director has defended in some other publications does not really exist, and therefore we are facing a Spanish right that has been radicalized and that has no qualms about endorsing an extreme right that is dangerous and that proposes illegalization of parties because they think differently. That in France or Germany would be unthinkable because they have historical memory. There they know that the 13 million voters of the Nazi party in 1931 were not neo-Nazis with shaved heads who thought of the gas chamber: they were normal people who voted for whatever reason, but the consequences were what we know. That is why the German or French conservative right establishes sanitary cords, not in Spain. If there are authors or artists who say “watch out for those people”, they counterbalance the right that normalizes them.

I think of the trap, music made by working-class people who, when they get two Euros, adhere to a neo-liberal discourse, such as La Zowi, for example, or Yung Beef. Can someone inject class consciousness when what they want is to get rich? How can you conquer this batch of young people who come from the neighborhood, sometimes from the lumpen, and who dream of bathing in champagne and throwing money through the window of the limo?

It is the nature of the movements that were called suburban in their times. Although in their speech they are constructed as spaces far from society, they are still spaces inserted in society that individually absorb the dominant values ​​brought from neoliberalism. There is an intuitive class component (the defense of the neighborhood, the mother who takes care of the domestic environment, what they fight for, their aesthetics …). That intuitive defense of the class, very folkloric in any case, which can be quickly overcome by a capitalist individualism of business. This also happened in hip hop in recent decades: we have seen the hip hop of insults, that of the coarsest American model, but we have also seen a hip hop that has been very vindictive. We have seen Chojin, we have seen Falsa Alarma, we have seen Nach, Frank T .: different from each other but they have taken advantage of their artistic practice to educate. And many educated through music. As a teenager, I got into the popular issues of politics listening to Ska-P. You listen to songs you will see after a time making you ask yourself questions. In the trap not everything is that individualism, there are also some of them maintaining and preserving their class consciousness.

When did the left cease to be sexy? Why did it lose punk? The rupturist, the transgressive, the fun. Its old freshness.

Well, it’s complicated. We live a political cycle where authoritarianism dominates, not only the vision of Donald Trump, but an authoritarianism that manifests itself in the coups of Latin America, uncompromising USA positions, Brexit, gag law, etc., certain policies that have shifted common sense to the right. Its cultural proposals are dark. The time of utopias seems to have been abandoned. That phrase that has been quoted so many times: “It is easier to imagine the end of humanity than the end of capitalism”. You see the Joker and you are not sure if it is a film that tries to empathize with those who have been left out of the system or if it is a reactionary film which feeds an endless indignation.

That is the position of Pedro Vallín.

Yes. It makes a lot of sense. It connects with cultural productions such as El Club de la lucha or V de Vendetta, which basically have more of nihilism than of politics. They are people who go out to the streets to destroy everything.

They don’t have a plan, Vallín said.

Exactly, there is no political orientation. There is something that, following your words, is sexy because it is violent, it is sexy because it implies fire, it is attractive because it is destruction, but it does not build anything, it does not postulate a future society. The utopias were something different: they posed an emancipatory option.

There is a flirtation on the left with censorship, which had always been heritage of the right. What do you think about concerts like C. Tangana’s being canceled because of their allegedly macho lyrics at the request of Podemos Bilbao?

It is a recurring debate. Indeed, within that authoritarian turn, we not only see clear policies, but we see interpretations: today they are going through the courthouse tweeters, singers … through laws that were already there before but that ten years ago were not interpreted in the same way. The common sense of the judges themselves has shifted to the right to the point that today they put you in a trial for certain comments on Twitter, but in the eighties they would have had to put all the Basque radical rock in jail, directly. The laws that are used today already existed: the crime of insults to the Crown, for example.

There is a very clear cultural shift to the right that the left should not share, because the left in my opinion must understand that there should be no legal limits to humor or art. We should have our own self-control mechanisms. I see a racist joke and I don’t think it should be prosecuted judicially, it would seem to me a barbarity, I will always be against it: but it does seem reasonable to me to warn that this joke has social and political consequences, and it is done and exercised vertically, from someone who does not know what it is to be a victim of racism. To warn about that is not to enter censorship. There is a left that does it, eh? But I believe that freedom of expression should never be legally punished.

I would like to know what you think of the debate about cultural appropriation and where the left should be placed there: on the one hand it is understood that there is a capitalist machinery that absorbs the features and symbols of minorities – as in the case of Rosalia with the gypsies – , and on the other hand there is the discourse of “this is xenophobic, culture belongs to everyone, let’s open the borders”.

From my point of view, cultural appropriation does not exist, for me it does not make much sense. I understand it but I don’t give it a political category. I really like a text by Albert Einstein where he spoke precisely that his knowledge was not due to him, but to everything that had happened before himself: another series of intellectual productions from which he had drunk, and therefore, you can’t make anything part of your assets. No cultural production belongs to anyone. In that rigid sense, everything we produce is an outcome of influences and fusions. The economic use made of that is another discussion, but that there are people like Rosalia who succeed in flamenco seems wonderful to me. I understand that there are people who can be bothered, but we are in the field of beliefs, and I do not discuss about beliefs: I respect them. But, of course, I don’t think it’s questionable for someone to merge styles. Life evolves like this.

Let’s talk about the left’s conflict with money. The other day Wyoming said that if he had to vote according to his income, it would seem to him that Vox is on the left. What consideration do you have about it? Why is this fault with the left when it is prosperous?

Well, the Spanish right is very bumpkin.

Is there a limit?

There is no limit, let everyone live as they see fit. For me, private policy should not interfere with public policy: let each one live his private life as he sees fit, in all areas. In the monetary, in the sexual, etc. The important thing is what kind of attitudes in public life you will have. But it is important to know how things are interpreted: our society is Judeo-Christian. I prayed every night until I was 14 years old, my family educated me in a culture in which Jesus’ idea of ​​being poor is postulated with some hypocrisy. The right uses it to criticize the left, not for themselves, of course. This society no longer knows how to differentiate the private sphere from the public. I do, from the analytical field. That is why I will never criticize what Pablo Iglesias or any leftist person does with his money, but we have to keep in mind that what I do with my money is going to be interpreted by people with very specific glasses. The cynical and hypocritical right will use it, because their vision of what communism or the left is amounts to basically living under a bridge and without clothes. It’s not that they don’t understand it, it’s that it’s part of their propaganda exercise.

Which artist would you appoint as Minister of Culture?

I have serious doubts, but surely any of the highly committed people who are exposed and who assume costs in their professional careers, such as Juan Diego Botto, Carlos or Javier Bardem, could be excellent candidates. They are people who have assumed a cost that for them is voluntary, but they have wanted to do it, despite, I insist, that they are now more recognized, but they have enormous obstacles to be able to say what they think; things that others, fortunately, we have the capacity to say.


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