Interview with Cristian Segura
October 24, 2021
A passionate journalist, he was part of the founding team of Ara, and was a German and Beijing correspondent for Avui. Since 2014, he works in El País. He is the author of several books, including two novels. The work La Madriguera (Destino) won the 2011 Josep Pla Narrative Prize. He now publishes “Gent d’ ordre”(Galàxia Gutenberg).
Some time ago, Marina Subirach, in her study on the evolution of social classes in metropolitan Barcelona, pointed out that practically the data did not detect the existence of a class, let’s say, high. In this sense, it is worth asking if it has ever existed what has been called the “Catalan bourgeoisie”?
I think it has existed, and its rise can be seen in the decade of the Commonwealth of Catalonia, when the Regionalist League, a political force made up entirely of bourgeois estates, created an administrative power, practically out of nowhere, from 1914 to 1924. This moment is very important, as an expression of bourgeois power. However, previously, since the 19th century, the Barcelona bourgeoisie was decisive when it came to obstructing liberal change in Spain, as a consequence of its protectionist wishes. Protectionism was designed to defend the interests of the Catalan bourgeoisie, and landowners throughout Spain. At that time, the transforming power of the Catalan bourgeoisie did not exist or was visualized. Then, especially from the economic transformation that takes place with Franco, another moment of boom can also be observed, and of bourgeois influence.
Why, in any case, is this Catalan bourgeoisie not joining the bandwagon of the oligarchy, as did the Basque?
The one who has written more and better on this issue is Enric Ucelay Da Cal. There could not have been a bourgeois leadership in the transformation of Spain, among other things, because the weight of the Enlightenment was very low compared to countries like France. There have always been many Catalans in Madrid, but not in the judiciary, in the state apparatuses, in powerful economic sectors … On the eve of the vote on the Statute of Catalonia, in 1932, Manuel Azaña said that “the most notable political difference I find between Catalans and Castilians is that we, Castilians, see everything in the State, and where the State runs out, everything runs out. While the Catalans are more emotional, or sentimental, and we are not, they place between the State and their person a portion of soft, loving, kind and inexorable things that little by little distance them from the severe, abstract and impersonal presence of the State. . I don’t know if it’s right or wrong. What I know is that political genius is revealed by the ease of access to the order of the State. And not only the peoples or the men, who by inheritance naturally or by having acquired it with their effort, are able to easily rise to the order of the State can one day be the head of a policy of universal value”. In any case, I believe a lot in Freud’s “narcissism of small differences” (the idea that we reserve our emotions of aggression, hatred and envy for those who are most like us). Between Castilians and Catalans, Basques and Catalans…, there are few cultural differences.
Perhaps this is why Catalan nationalism talks so much about creating a state?
The Catalan counties were powerful, as was the kingdom of Aragon of which they were part. But the new Spanish power, the French …, were limiting its expansion and influence. National identity, the will to be different, has been emphasized, sharpened, a lot. This seems that, among other things, it seems a consequence of associating Nation with State. But what has happened in the last decade in Catalonia has been very little Catalan. Not emotionally, sentimentally, as Azaña said (which has been fulfilled to the last iota), but on a rational, logical scale. The consolidation of the independence movement is inevitable if you have been working hard for the last 40 years about “we have a very acute national peculiarity”, and that Spain is bullshit. Unlike Basque capitalism, which, surely induced by the English, French, Belgians …, was organized very early in joint-stock companies, Catalan industry seems to be characterized by its family profile, by surnames … The structure, the Catalan social order, as many historians maintain, has been very much determined by the “Pairal House”. Each family is a small state. There are still many manor houses that have been with the same members for centuries. This, at some point is transferred to companies. The manor house is the precedent of Catalan industrial power in the 19th and 20th centuries. The family gives the business its name. One of the great successes of Pujol comes out from there. Some of the first electoral posters of Pujol, in the 80s, appealed to the family. The family as a concept of the basic unit of society. Very Mediterranean thing, in general.
With the Franco regime, which was very good for the economic elites, did a change occur in the wealthy families of Barcelona and Catalonia?
There were lifelong wealthy people who took advantage of the social peace of the Franco regime and the economic takeoff of Spain to do good business, and who were born and thrived in the heat of the regime. There are new and old lineages that got a lot out of what was called “Catalonia, Spain’s factory”. Starting in the 1960s, Spain stabilized and began to grow, in line with what was happening in other parts of the world. Catalonia benefited greatly from developmentalism.
Are the most current wealthy families, the result of globalization, and via investment funds, high salaries …, perceived, or rather they are hidden in an anonymity that is difficult to reveal?
Catalan industrial power has greatly diminished, as in all of Europe, as a result of globalization, and because there has not been a reconversion towards sectors of the future. In the case of Barcelona, this is clearly noticeable. The money now? A part of it is linked to income, it lives on an inherited patrimony. It is an extractive economy. In the service sector, the world of managers… there is money. There are executives of multinationals who invest in the creation of a technology company …, but I do not know to what extent it may be relevant. In the book, I try to explain that the basis of what was a laborious industrial bourgeoisie has changed. These elites are changing and new players appear… And with this, their perception of the environment and even the rules of the game is also changing. Traditionally, these elites were very suspicious of political power and are now approaching it. In Catalonia, this collusion between money and politics turns into coexistence. The Catalan public administration generates many contracts, there are civil servants, positions of trust with very high salaries. And this ends up creating a “Mandarinate” (bureaucracy and aristocracy of imperial China that sought in everything to appropriate the national income).
Something that explains a good part of the alliances woven around the procés?
I believe that Catalonia has mimicked things typical of the functioning of the State, which Catalan nationalism had always criticized: businessmen who were adept at a cause, friends or faithful to political power … What had been questioned endlessly, with Aznar or Felipe González, of collusion between economic and political powers. It was done with Jordi Pujol and has taken it to higher heights. People close to those who have been governing in the last decade, who are the same, are the ones who benefit. The particular good is confused with the general good. This is something that should be studied well. Unlike what happened in other autonomous communities and with the Government of Spain, Catalonia lacks political alternations and it is very likely that this will continue for quite some time. The lack of alternation prevents renewal. Esquerra Republicana and Junts are always at each other’s throat. In any other place, two parties like these would not be partners, after all the stabbing that has been happening. If this does not happen, it is because they have a lot to lose.
Which if it resulted in the creation of a nation-state would undoubtedly tend to broaden and crystallize …
There are few things as retrograde as creating, at this point, a nation-state. And if this were the case in Catalonia, we would find something very unilateral, closed, not very diverse. Other states, including Spain, are very diverse. Catalonia would not have the diversity that Spain has.