By Lluisrabell on November 5, 2020
Lluís Rabell, activist, politician, comrade
The Rust Belt is the largest industrial region in North America, concentrated in the states that surround the Great Lakes. With the presidential election still to be settled, one observation seems unappealable: whoever wins, there is Trumpism for quite a while. American society is deeply fractured, and the winds of populism will continue to blow over it – and the world. The losers of globalization remain under the influence of a demagogue emerged from the elites who verbalizes with imprecations the unease of the aggrieved and reigns over the chaos that he himself encourages. Neither rural America nor the white working class of the once flourishing industrial states of Appalachia, turned by crises and relocations into “the rust belt,” have abandoned Trump… Despite reneging on a promise to return his old splendor to the factories and although the president’s trade wars have not favored agriculture either. And it is that people vote less based on the balance of a mandate than on future expectations. Biden and Obama have talked about going back to a smooth time. But only a part of the population can dream of a quiet brunch. On the contrary, Trump has understood that, for many, it is still the time of anger. And he is determined to gallop on it, overwhelming political democracy itself. Most likely, in terms of world hegemony, this will not be an American century. But the seismic movements that are registered in the vast territory of the United States will have aftershocks in many countries. We will not take long to verify it.
Despite the fatigue, the regional elections of 14-F in Catalonia will still be elections of the “procés”. Not so much because of the exciting perspectives that the independence movement can outline – there is none left – but because of the perennial duality installed within society. It is not easy at all to take the exact measure of such a division, or to find the appropriate policies to reconstruct the country and stop its fall on the slope of decadence. Much less in the anguished climate of a pandemic that does not stop. The left, through their speeches and programs, through certain additions to their candidacies, by successive trials, try to find a way out. But, given the complexity of the problem, those answers still seem very partial … and not necessarily well focused. Let’s put it bluntly: the left here also has a problem with its particular rust belt, with the popular classes of the metropolitan areas and poor neighborhoods, hit by successive crises. They should represent the natural base of progressive forces. However, its political representation is in dispute.
Thus, for example, the Comuns have just announced their intention to incorporate Joan Carles Gallego, the former secretary general of CCOO de Catalunya, as number two of their candidacy. Excellent candidate, without a doubt, who confers solvency to the list of the alternative left. But it has never been enough – and now even less – to put a trade unionist in your life to drag the vote of the working class. Such incorporation may attract – or retain – the most politicized elements, the upper layers of the labor movement, but it will hardly stir the spirit of the mass. Too much has happened in recent years. The rise of the independence movement and its adventure of September-October 2017 opened a very deep wound in that population, which felt expelled from Catalonia and its rights threatened by the project of a Republic with authoritarian features, faced with Spain. The Comuns were not firm enough in the face of this political and emotional predicament. They flirted with the referendum without democratic guarantees of 1-O and, in the following elections, they presented a candidacy that bordered the ERC border – and a part of which ended up in the ranks of the independence movement. It will not be enough with a greater social accent in the discourse to reconnect with the working class. Greater clarity will also be needed on the territorial project being defended, beyond vagueness about plurinationality. And it would also be necessary to get rid of certain daydreams about the government that is advocated. ERC’s nods to Catalunya en Comú are nothing more than a hoax intended to divide the social left. If the independence movement adds up, it will once again constitute a nationalist government with a neoliberal and clientelist bias. Fought with itself and probably as inoperative as the last three years. But it will do it again to maintain the springs of autonomic power… waiting for better times. The process is pure national right-wing populism. Such a movement does not vanish on its own. Its leaders are still in jail and the embers of the fire remain incandescent under the ashes of failure.
In this regard, the PSC is much more lucid, aware that, if that majority is not broken and the socialists do not reach a sufficient parliamentary force, it will be impossible to structure an alternative for change and get out of the loop. Hence the attempts to attract a part of moderate nationalism and to encourage the dissidents of Puigdemont to set up their own space. But these trials can only solve some unknowns from the equation, in no case solve it in its entirety. The left is nostalgic for the times when it raised the flag of popular Catalanism. Under that banner, wide social sectors could be recognized, from the middle classes to a working class eager to integrate into the welcoming project of a country that was to be, finally, fully that of their children. But it is no longer possible to decline those values and that horizon, inherent to the left, in the same terms. It is time for a federalist replacement. Today, only an enlightened minority can recognize itself in the desire to recover Catalanism. The “procés” has dynamited that concept. Evoking it in the popular neighborhoods is perceived with suspicion. The independence movement has managed to outline two different ethno-cultural communities, settled respectively in the middle classes and the working class in its broadest sense. Beyond even their political sensibilities, Catalan speakers tend to identify with the goal of independence – and all the more so the more indigenous surnames there are in the family. TV3 has played a crucial role in this regard. Not so much in an indoctrination to use as some claim, but in the creation of a bubble, of a collective imagination that has made it possible to identify a linguistic community with the “authenticity” and the whole of the Catalan nation, making the secessionist project its natural aspiration and its historical destiny. The other part of Catalonia, linked to Spain by its origin, the family language, its feelings or its convictions, does not exist in this biased vision of reality. That part of the country lacks cultural and media instruments comparable to those used by the independence movement – thanks to its management of public funds. The internalization of humiliation is all the more painful. It has been a long time since in Nou Barris, Santa Coloma or Cornellà it is possible to hear their neighbors speak of “the Catalans” as a reality alien to them. It must be remembered that, in the face of the initial segregationist will of Pujolismo, the promotion of public school in Catalan resulted from the will of those social sectors, largely from immigration, who conceived a future of progress as well as the fullness of their citizenship as members of “un sol poble”. The “procés” has finished with all that. It has not taken us to Ireland, but it has brought us closer to Belgium. You have to consider that reality in all its harshness. Melancholy will not rebuild the influence of the left.
To this must be added the danger that this emotional tear is conjugated with the ailments that the pandemic is causing. It is indisputable that the Pedro Sánchez government works to mitigate its social impacts and prepare an economic recovery under new parameters. But poverty walks much faster than the BOE. The administration is overwhelmed by the magnitude of the problems. The IMV barely reaches 10% of the people who should benefit from this subsistence income. The case of the Catalan Citizenship Income is even worse. In Barcelona there have been hundreds of evictions in the last month. Many groups, due to their contractual precariousness or because they are part of the underground economy, escape the radar of the administrations. There are growing queues at food banks. Social safety nets have many ripples through which suffering creeps in in abundance. The political tension promoted by the right and the extreme right, together with the management of the pandemic by the Generalitat, accentuate the general malaise and distrust in representative institutions. And the fury begins to reach the streets. Vox, turned into the genuine Spanish Trumpist party, spurs on the entire right and is firmly committed to chaos. In that context, it can give us a serious upset on election night.
The challenge is therefore enormous for the left. It will not solve it simply with cosmetic operations, or by organizing a Catalan revival. An atomized and mistreated social base, socially and culturally, such as the one that today is living poorly in the neighborhoods, can be dragged down by populism. There the future of the left is decided. More efficient measures are urgently needed from the progressive government. But neither will welfare assistance. We need a program and a story that restores pride and hope to these people, a project for an inclusive and supportive country in which they can once again feel like a protagonist. It is urgent to go to meet our rust belt.