Lorca biographer Ian Gibson declares himself finished with his lifetime project and does not intend to revise or update what he has up to now written and published aboutthe poet-playwright’s life, times and works. Time for me then, after eight successive blog posts on the theme, to take a page out of his book and turn my attention to the present day. And in present-day Spain the big issue of course is Catalan independence, its defiance of the Spanish state. ‘What the Generalitat (autonomous Catalan government) has done is a terrible mistake’ is Gibson’s view. It is not mine.
In his view, what they, the independistas, have done is illegal. Gibson is a self-declared Sanchista, that is, a supporter of Pedro Sánchez, on the more progressive wing of the PSOE (Spanish social democratic party) and now party leader. ‘We are the Left,’ declares Sánchez, a tad defiantly. As social democrats, that means they are committed to act ‘progressively’, but within the parameters of capitalist society and so of the Spanish state.
The illegality of Catalan independence that Gibson speaks of relates to the Spanish Constitution of 1978, a central tenet of which is the ‘indivisibility’ of Spain, - with its long history of resisting moves to self-determination, especially in Catalonia and the Basque Country. The Constitution of 1978 was written, it needs to be said, with the generals of the Franco regime looking over the shoulder of the politicians to make sure their concerns were taken into consideration. And one of the main concerns of the old nationalist right was to uphold the ‘sacred and eternal’ integrity of the nation state. We might say that the Constitution of 1978 was shaped under the ominous shadow of the then recently deceased Generalisimo Francisco Franco.
So, as long as the Constitution stands, goes the legalists’ argument, any declaration of independence of any part of Spain is technically illegal. Before Catalan independence can be considered, the Constitution must be amended accordingly. That is the law which Catalan separatists are flouting.
However, and although it may sound almost self-contradictory, laws are not in fact ‘written in stone’. Laws are made to meet particular social needs at a particular time and may grow outdated and be amended. Very often laws come about as a result of popular demands, pressure, and struggle. Let’s just take the question of universal suffrage, which was a right that had to be hard fought for in many countries, and in the United Kingdom culminated in the illegal direct actions of the suffragette movement. These illegal actions were vindicated by history and are now understood as a legitimate response to unjust and outdated laws.
This brings us to the question of whether Catalonia’s declaration of independence is politically legitimate. The principle of the right to self-determination is simply that a people has the right to freely determine its own destiny. This was the purpose of the referendum held on 1 October and violently aborted by the force of the Spanish state. It is a basic democratic principle, one that is indeed enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations.
The question may be raised whether Catalans make up an independent people, distinct from the Spanish people as a whole. The legitimacy of Catalonia’s declaration of independence stems from the conviction that Catalonia is a region which is culturally and linguistically distinguishable from the rest of Spain and also has a long political history that defines it as a recognisable entity within the Spanish state.
Catalan cuture: sardanas and castellers. Spanish culture: bullfights and sevillanas.
However, what is immediately at stake is not so much Catalan independence, but the right of the Catalan people to self determination. When the referendum of 1 October, asking the Catalan people to decide if they were for or against the constitution of an independent republic, was wrecked, sabotaged, and declared illegal, the Catalan people were effectively denied their right to self determination.
Just as a claim to self-determination can be deemed legitimate or not, similarly the indivisibility of Spain requires political legitimacy. Such legitimacy depends on the support or at least acquiescence of all sections of society and cannot be imposed through a statute of law, willy-nilly. The surest way to achieve and demonstrate such political consensuated unity is by allowing sections, minorities, to freely secede if they no longer feel their interests adequately promoted in the greater union.
A common argument against Catalan separation from Spain, and one that Gibson endorses, is that that region has a higher standard of living than the Spanish average and enjoys privileges over and above other parts of the country.
I do not dispute that the Catalan bourgeoisie has done very well out of its union with Spain, being provided with a ready market for its products that might have fared less well in a broader less protected European or world market. Nor do I not doubt that sections of the Catalan bourgeoisie are now interested in a greater degree of autonomy in exploiting their own assets, including their ‘own’ workforce. These people may be using the demand for self determination as a tool to win a better position vis-à-vis the Spanish ruling class at the negotiating table. But in doing so, they have unleashed a demon: the popular sentiment of vast sections of the Catalan people, including the working class. For these people, the fight for self determination is an integral part of the fight against austerity imposed by the central government and at the same time embodies the aspiration for a fairer and more democratic society. This intervention of ‘the popular classes’ is what is alarming governments across Europe.
People across Spain should feel encouraged by any gains made by the Catalan people and try to emulate them, rather than envy and resent their real or imagined privileged position.
But this state of affairs is depressing Ian Gibson, who thinks such a fight for political and economic progress can be won by voting in PSOE (social democrats) and using a PSOE-led government to implement policies favourable to the great majority of Spanish people. This is classic reformism and has bound working people to their national exploiters time and time again. It is not exaggeration to say it is the same logic that turned masses of working people against each other in defence of their national blocks in 1914 at the start of World War One.
It is evident that Ian Gibson adores many aspects of Spain, rejecting its narrow antidemocratic nationalism in favour, as he says, of a federal republic of Spain, or better still, he says, an Iberian federal republic, from the Algarve to the Pyrenees! (With its two languages, he adds in a traitorous self-giveaway.)
But in denying the Catalans the democratic right to determine their own destiny, he is accepting the logic of nationalism, where the rights of the nation supersede the rights of its parts and would make his federal republic a pipedream. If Spain is indivisible it must be so by the consensus of all its parts. And it must demonstrate its indivisibility by giving the Catalan people a free choice of being part of it, or not.
Ian Gibson’s opinions reproduced here are from:
Pedro Blasco. 28.10.2017 Vox Populi: Política