Catalunya: now popular democracy v. EU and its states


She went to vote in Barcelona, a city in a European Union stateĀ 

Do Rajoy, the Spanish state and their EU backers imagine there will be no consequence to the violent state repression in Catalunya?

It is a particularly brutal extension of elite contempt for democracy – referendums especially – across the continent.

That will not be lost among embittered layers at the base of European societies.

It signals something else. For decades the Spanish elites have sought to get beyond the politics of the Transicion 40 years ago and to have all the political questions contained within the less than democratic, and monarchist, constitution of 1978.

In much the same way Greek politicians have complained about being stuck in the Metapolitefsi, the residue of the great clashes of the mid-1970s following the fall of the Junta.

The repressive forces on the streets of Barcelona today resemble those of a Junta.

Forty years of first social democratic and then neoliberal integration into the EU and cooptation of the labour movement have not succeeded in turning a page on this history. Just as in France the reference point of 1968 has not been buried, despite the declaration by Nicolas Sarkozy a few years ago to do just that.

The period is long over in which modest rising prosperity for most could lead to seeing the capitalist integration of the European Union as a vouchsafe also for democracy in those southern European countries that had emerged from dictatorship.

Indeed, it is now the opposite. Fascists – some MPs of the now defunct LAOS – entered the government of Greece in 2012. It was thanks to the EU working with the Greek elites and right to bring down the elected government of George Papandreou and replace it with a “technocratic” administration headed by a banker, who brought LAOS into the coalition.

For two years we have had rhetorical complaints from Brussels about the anti-democratic outrages of the governments of Poland and Hungary. But the implication was that these were expressions of a distinctly eastern European cultural problem – the answer to which was more integration into the capitalist European institutions.

Instead of pathologising the peoples living east of the Oder-Neisse or Danube, we need to look much further west – to what is happening in Catalunya today – to recognise the extent of the anti-democratic and authoritarian threat.

You don’t need to go far back to conjure up very similar images to the baton-charging Spanish paramilitary police today. They look almost identical to the police mobilised from across Germany to suppress the G20 summit protests in Hamburg in July.

There’s been a huge reaction against austerity and neoliberalism in the last five years. But for most of that time most people thought that they could bring the change they desired just through the limited mechanisms on offer from parliamentary democracy.

But we have seen an elected, left wing Greek government crushed by undemocratic concentrations of power. Then a huge referendum result overturned in just 24 hours.

There is discussion among serious commentators in Germany of the next government following the polarised and shock election last week not being formed until January. In the meantime, the interim government might perhaps unconstitutionally authorise troop deployments to Syria and Afghanistan, without a parliamentary vote. That this can even be discussed openly is telling.

France is under a state of emergency and legislation by presidential decree has become normalised.

Every state is increasing spending on security forces. All justified by “the Muslim terror threat”. Nato demands a rise in arms spending.

It is now not only economic well-being and survival of working people and the poor which are at stake. So too are democratic freedoms, something which we were assured capitalist Europe would safeguard, even if there were some economic “problems” as overheads.

The far right and fascists want to go further. But they are not having to batter their way to political advance against the state. It is the state that is beating a path for them by battering popular and democratic opposition.

Nests of fascists in Spain are openly trying to organise. Who opened the space for them these last two weeks? Not they themselves, but the sons of Franco in the governing Spanish right and the repressive apparatus of the Spanish state.

There is a political consequence for the anti-capitalist left in all of this. It is that the territory of our fight is not only economic and social, against austerity and neoliberalism. It is now firmly on the political terrain also. The broad political terrain, not just the electoral.

We have to offer an answer to the authoritarianism centred upon a more radical conception of democracy, from below and based upon a different way of running society.

That poses a challenge also to all the left reformist forces in Britain and in Europe.

The pressure of governmentalism – with the fig leaf of party-sisterhood with the Spanish social democrats of PSOE – is to say nothing, to say that these are purely internal matters for the territory of Spain, and to hide behind the Madrid constitutional rhetoric which is being deployed to cover a violent and anti-democratic assault in Barcelona.

Conversely, to speak out now and rally to the rights of the people of Catalunya is to declare an insurgent and anti-capitalist orientation. It is one which forewarns all that more militant and more profoundly democratic methods than a simple election or referendum will be required – even to hold a contested referendum or to have the outcome of an election respected.

That dilemma is pronounced in Britain today. It is the only country in Europe where a left-led reformist party has grown substantially and looks capable of becoming the next government.

But it is precisely because of that, and the questions of the state, authoritarianism and democracy, that people must take sides.

A run on the pound, should Labour take office? Yes – quite probably.

The right and its friends in the state acting like Rajoy? Perfectly possible.

This is about the defence of the national rights of the people of Cataluya.

But from Ireland to Greece it is about much more than that also.

Democracy and radical change – or authoritarianism and reaction.

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