Three social groups are leading the secessionist process in Catalonia: the regional public servants of Catalan speaking background; the (small) entrepreneurs ruined by the 2008 financial crisis or by the competitive pressure of the common EU market (such as the father of former regional President Artur Mas); and the conservative rural middle classes strongly benefitted by the subsidies of Catalan nationalist governments.
All of them are people of law and order, not much inclined to political adventures, but their political imaginary has been penetrating European societies since the radicalisation of neoliberal politics. It is firmly established within the German right but also in Austria, Finland, the Netherlands, and the northern regions of Belgium and Italy. Within this imaginary, the territory is conceived as a strongly cohesive unity in social, institutional and cultural terms, which needs to fiercely compete against other territories to achieve positive commercial balances and to attract investments that will save their welfare systems. Only some radical versions of this “welfare chauvinism” include an ethnic component, but all of them encompass an important dose of cultural supremacy, which can evolve into an extreme right agenda. Southern European countries, but also depressed regions within their own countries -the East parts of Germany, the Italian Mezziogiorno, the Valonie in Belgium etc.- are seen as burdens for which rich regions and nations should not feel responsible, as they want to preserve their own welfare. The conservative and (neo)liberal section of the Catalan independence movement envisions reality though this ideological filter: the “Spanish State” is a cultural artifice, a burden which has to be lifted if they are to become the “Finland of the Mediterranean”. From here to wanting secession there is only a small step.
Demanding independence is not a problem at all for this ideological position, but secession is highly problematic and even contradictory, if one defends progressive values. The secessionist left has two branches, but there is a third one, which does not grow thick enough and is causing political headaches to the leaders of the procés. The first one are the urban, cultivated middle classes, the old gauche divine who gave up the social discourse of the 1980’s in exchange for identity issues. They were organised in the nationalist section of the Catalan Socialist Party (PSC) until the party blew up some years ago. The second branch are the radical sons of the conservative middle-classes organised in the CUP (Candidaturas de Unitat Popular), who defend an ethnic and rural egalitarianism.They are a very active and radical political group who Puigdemont, the conservative president of the Generalitat, needs to rely on if the radicalization of the process is to be preserved. Some members of the popular and working classes, with no Catalan background, decided to give up their mixed identity in order to participate in the building of this “Finland of the Mediterranean”. This group is not important numerically, but immigrants with full time jobs living in rich European regions have similar ideas, and so do some trade unions making corporate coalitions with their patrons in order to defend the competitive positions of their rich territories whose welfare state benefits their affiliates as tax payers. Without these two and a half branches of the political left, the secessionist movement would not have more than 25% support of the Catalan society. Most members of working and popular classes do not participate in the project. They refuse to be forced to choose between two identities, or they simply suspect that the snobs of Barcelona and the shopkeepers of Girona will quickly forget them as soon as they have collected their vote.
The discourse of the secessionist left cannot easily be made compatible with the ideas of solidarity and justice, and they appear to be holding escapist positions when it comes to face all the consequences of their political bet. The “right to decide” can be seen as a positive issue by those who have a pure Catalan family background. However, for those with a mixed identity -the majority of Catalans, according to surveys-, this “right” is perceived as a violent obligation to choose between two identities artificially constructed as exclusive. If familiar backgrounds, working experiences and everyday life are culturally more and more mixed in Catalonia, as they are in the rest of Spain and in world, what is the sense, then, to be forced to “decide” between one and the other? what is the democratic point of this process?
The European left criticises the unsolidary attitudes of European export tigers towards southern European countries whose productive and export capacities are being destroyed by the German economic diktat. But this justified criticism is irreconcilable with the refusal of left Catalan secessionist to support a common Spanish public social fund and to reject a Spanish federation reconfigured on social equality grounds, just as they criticize the attitude of central European elites towards the poorer regions in Europ. Its a sharp ideological contradiction to engage in Third Word cooperation, to demand economic redistribution from the big north to the big south but, at the same time, follow the Catalan conservatives and neoliberals in their will to cancel the solidarity with poorer Spanish regions.
But the most opaque arguments of the secessionist left are their refusal to rationally and realistically face the consequences of their political bet, if the proclamation of independence is done unilaterally. They refuse to face the political and ideological impact that a longstanding confrontation and chauvinist reaffirmation will have on the political and social atmosphere within Catalonia and Spain. Thy refuse to face the consequences of the economic policies than would have to be implemented if they were to attract investments, compete with other territories, strengthen the welfare system, or simply avoid a massive decapitalization. All of these policies would hit mainly the underprivileged classes, as wages and social expenses would have to be strongly reduced in order to improvin credit ratings. They refuse to face the longstanding consequences of “reinvention” of history and traditions based on the falsification of facts and the accommodation of others in order to create a new national epic without common democratic experiences, such as the Second Republic or the long fight against Franco: the developments in Poland and other eastern European countries are precedents of contemporary falsification of history which should not be ignored. The left secessionists and its supporters in the rest of Spain also refuse to face the domino effect an independent Catalonia would have in the whole country and how it would affect other Spanish territories: the political dynamics within the Pais Valencià, the Basque Country, Navarra etc. would be strongly influenced by the nationalist agenda, swallowing the social agenda in a brief period of time. And of course they refuse to face the impact of this independence within Europe itself, where several right-wing nationalist movements would be strongly encouraged by this turn of events in Spain.
This refusal to face reality affects mainly the diagnosis of the modern Spanish state. Leftist of all signs criticize some western countries, which are trying to destroy the territorial integrity of -mainly laic- states situated in strategic zones of the world, for the purpose of enforcing neoliberal national building strategies. The fragmentation of the Spanish State would generate a similar deterioration of public spaces in and outside Catalonia: the economic, financial and tax competition will be fierce and Catalonia will be weakened, also due in part to its exit from the European Union. Spanish anti-statism, the rejection of the state and its rule, has been for years a programmatic key point within the Spanish left and the Spanish anarchist movement, with a strong presence in Catalonia. The reasons were structural and justified: anti-statism was a long lasting response to the Spanish liberal and authoritarian state of the nineteenth-century, which was extremely insensitive to the needs of popular classes and systematically used coercion as a tool to face social and political problems. The “auto determination rights”, which are at the core or the secessionist project and which can be considered irreconcilable with the integrity of the Spanish state, were after Wold War I and during the sixties a leftist response to non legitimate European states repressing cultural minorities and social and political rights.
It is highly problematic to compare these repressive states, which were structurally unable to face demands of democracy and social justice, to the present situation. States are nowadays the only actors capable of facing the influence of corporations, regulating financial markets and facing up the security and ecological challenges of the present world. True: the political pact established with the Francoist forces during the transition to democracy in the 1980s explains the continuity of structures, habits and cultures which have been obstructing for years the possibility of founding a new common identity based on multilingualism and republican and democratic traditions. But there is a long way from that tension to identifying the modern democratic Spanish state with tsarist Russia or with the Franco regime: it would be a major political mistake with unpredictable consequences for the strategic aims of the Spanish and also of the European left.