The rebellion of Catalonia, falsely presented as a mere exercise in institutional and national self-determination, and its repression, demands reflection. What was lived and continues to be lived, resonates well beyond judicial decisions, constitutional debates or future regional elections (scheduled for the 21st of December). In a step towards greater understanding of what is at stake, we share a short essay, in translation, by Santiago López Petit, entitled Catalonia as political laboratory. (Originally published in Crític – 27/11/2017 – and published again in spanish by comite disperso, and posted with a las barricadas).
Catalonia as political laboratory
by Santiago López Petit
In the end, the Regime of 78 didn’t die this time. The autonomous workers struggles of the 70s were defeated with deaths and by the Moncloa Pact signed by the same working class labour unions. The 15M movement, which elaborated a radical critique of political representation, was shut up using ridicule and isolation as effective weapons. The Catalanist rebellion which, for a few moments, seemed to scratch at the foundations of the Regime, was also defeated. In fact, this third attempt had no echo in Spain, where perplexity, when not complete incomprehension, predominated. The call to order before the application of article 155 blocked all attempts at change. President Rajoy stated it with his usual argumentative skill: “The State will defend itself against the attacks of those who want to destroy it”. And he added as a kind of small punctuation note, that even though article 155 may one day cease to be applied, it will never cease to function. It is what is called, “Enforcing the Law”. The counsel is unequivocal. The repression and humiliation against the Catalonia that tried to rebel will be great.
It has rarely been so evident that the defense of the Law (with a capital letter) presupposed a declaration of war. This is something that the talk show jurists so present today in the media have difficulty coming to terms with. The Law is a correlation of forces. Foucault won in a thrashing of Habermas and company. A jurist friend one day told me: “Of course if things are like this, we can now pack our bags”. Power is, always and in the last instance, the power to kill; the State of Law only serves to cover this over. Usually, and to say the same thing in a more sophisticated way, it is said that the State possesses the “monopoly on the legitimate physical violence”. This truth about the State of Law is what the members of the Catalan government ran up against. When one of them affirmed that the Generalitat was not prepared to realise the Republic “confronting an authoritarian State acting without limits in the use of violence”. Or when the spokesperson of the republicans told us that: “Before the obvious evidence that this violence could occur, we decided not to cross the red line” and finished with a frightening confession: “We never wanted to put at risk the citizens of Catalonia”. The answer is okay. Thanks very much. No one likes to die. But one smells a rat here. In other words: are the members of the government ingenuous or inept?
Spinoza in his Ethics has a phrase that has become very well known: “We don’t know what the body is capable of”. To substitute “body” for “State” is useful to explain events. The government didn’t really know what a State could do. But did not the government want to construct its own State? No one can deny them experience. A person even lost an eye due to a rubber bullet. Let us say it clearly: what they didn’t believe was that the repression of the Spanish state could reach what is called the “respectable people”. The radicals yes … but peaceful and civil persons! It is what the Consejero de Sanidad [in effect, the Catalan autonomous region’s “minister of health”] recognises when he affirms that “the road map of Junts pel Sí [the independentist parliamentary alliance that governed Catalonia after the 2015 regional elections] did not take into account the violence of the State”.
The government effectively ended up being a postmodern government. Prisoner of its own communication apparatus, it created reality, and the same reality would feed back into the apparatus that thereby saw itself justified in its wager.
The mass participation in so many events allowed for no doubt and the path to independence appeared to be open. Until the cruelty and sadism of the judicial-repressive machinery of the Spanish State drowned in tears the desire of freedom of some and gave birth to an immense rage in others. A bath of reality? It depends for whom. For the government, certainly. Inside their self-complacent bubble, it could not understand the assault underway and confusion began to overwhelm them. They were unable to respond to two fundamental events: the flight of companies, that is one of the current expressions of the class struggle, and the presence of another Catalonia that also expresses the class struggle, even if often in a perverse manner. It was however the event of the strange proclamation of the DUI (Declaración Unilateral de Independencia) that ended up converting the government into an authentic postmodern government obliged to employ a theological language to try to save itself. For this reason, the DUI had an indescribable character: was it reality or fiction?
Let us set aside particular incidents (secretism, postponements, the disapearance of the government, etc.). From the moment that the brutal repression of the Spanish State appears, the only objective of the independentist parties is reduced to thinking political action in function of its penal effects. It is assuredly correct to act this way. We don’t want martyrs and prison has to be avoided whenever it is possible. In spite of everything, the shadow of a doubt arises. When a belief, that is a political truth, is not defended until its ultimate consequences, for whatever reasons, is not this truth in some way effected at its very core? I give an example. When Galileo swore before his judges and admits that the earth does not turn about the sun, the scientific truth is not seen to be in any way affected by his decision. However, if the president of the Parliament does not participate in a demonstration for the freedom of his comrades – because his lawyer so counsels him – despite the absence of any explicit legal prohibition to do so, does his retraction have the same value as in the first case? Other examples could be brought up of this “preventive” strategy that extend from paying enormous fines to seeking refuge in ambiguous statements. The problem is at what point does a strategy of this kind not finally contaminate the original discourse and weaken it by spreading a sense of confusion. The Spanish government and its acolytes subsequently took advantage of the occasion to speak of cowardliness and deceit. The Catalan government had deceived all Catalans.
No great time need be spent in denouncing the vile cynicism of s/he who attacks and then reproaches the attacked for lack of bravery. Let us turn to what is essential. No. No, we were not deceived. The government, however, yes, it will deceive itself. It believed in politics. It insisted on playing to see who was the most democratic when democracy does not exist. The democratic exists; it is the democratic as the form through which power exercises its domination today. It has two sides: war-state and postmodern fascism, heteronomy and autonomy, control and self-control. Dialogue and tolerance refer to a supposed horizontal dimension. The existence of an interior/exterior enemy to eliminate, refers to a vertical dimension. “The democratic” empties the public space of conflict, neutralises it politically and militarily. The democratic is this Europe, a true club of assassin states, that externalises borders so as not to behold the horror. Contrary to what the self-righteous and self-satisfied like to say now, there was no failure of politics. Democratic politics consists of shutting up and silencing the dissonances that could threaten order. The Catalan government, unable to understand the real functioning of the democratic, saw itself led onto a path riddled with incoherences. Clara Ponsatí must therefore be thanked for her honesty when from exile she dared to say: “We were not ready to give political continuity to what the people of Catalonia did on the 1st of October”. She was much criticised, but she stated the inevitable truth: the government did not know how to live up to the courage and dignity of the people who defended a space of freedom with their bodies. Of course, without sanctifying the ballot box, it is evident that what happened that day marks a before and an after. But what exactly happened?
For a few moments, politics as a game of majorities, with its correlations of forces, etc., was relegated, and what occurred was an authentic collective defiance. A defiance that extended to the impressive demonstration of the 3rd of October against the repression. It is difficult to analyse the immense political strength, at the same time hidden, that was in this demonstration. A collective subject began there to gain form that overflowed the paralysing “a unique people”. What can we call this political subject? They were singularities who, having left fear behind at home, were not disposed to easily give in. A people that erupts into a thousand heads capable of expelling the infiltrated fascists with refined violence. The stronger suspicion is that the fear of the government had less to do with the action of the State than with what these people could one day do; people who were an amalgam of the irreducible consistency of popular Catalanism and the existent social malaise. For this reason, cloying calls to civility, addressed to the respectable people, and the smiles during the moments of unbridled repression. It leaves a foul taste in the mouth. When I hear the words “civility” and “public-spiritedness”, I think automatically of the civic norms that serve to wipe clean public space of all kinds of social residues.
The ease with which the independentist political parties accepted the directly imposed convocation of elections is surprising. The quick acceptance of this new scenario, despite the existence of political prisoners, is surprising. The explanation is terribly illusory: the elections are illegitimate, but with our significant participation we can legitimate them (and, therefore, we will legitimate ourselves before the world). The independentist discourse is either necessarily self-contradictory, or it has to explicitly accept renouncing independence. “We will be independent if we persevere and we gain a majority. When? We don’t know. Before being independentists, we are democrats. And before being democrats, we are respectful people”, guarantees an important republican politician.
And what if we were to be, for once, “bad” and instead of aspiring to be a normal country with its small state, we were to desire to be an anomaly which doesn’t fit? To liberate Catalonia from this independentist horizon that always ends by suffocating her – given that all horizons always imprison – perhaps it could open up an unprecedented path. Towards an anomaly that all hegemonic Catalanism hid; from the strength of the pain of a poor interior Catalonia to the silences of the urban peripheries. They wanted us to be presentable to a Europe that however was looking elsewhere. Why insist on being presentable? The political parties of all colours rush forward, hungry for any subsidy. But before these imposed elections, there was the possibility of sabotage with massive and organised abstention. To begin to evacuate the Spanish State, and extend the ungovernability of self-organisation. In Spain as well? Catalonia as this irreducible anomaly that escapes, which while escaping essays other forms of life.
“Catalonia”, the political laboratory, is closing momentarily. This is clear. When the democratic is the mark of what can be thought and what it is permitted to live: how difficult it is to change something! From a logic of State (and from the desire for a State), it will never be possible to change a society. Yet what has been lived, the audacity of transgressing together, the collective strength of a country that no one can represent and the joy of resisting … This is never forgotten. Dignity and coherence are not negotiable.