Saturday June 10, 2023

The revolt of the rich

October 12, 2017

Conflict between the government of Spain and the leadership of the Catalan Autonomy became the main international news event in the beginning of October. Nationalist parties forming the government in Barcelona declare independence. Madrid does not make concessions, and sends its police units to Catalonia. Regional authorities hold an independence referendum. The central government does not recognize it and makes attempts to sabotage it. Local authorities respond with a call for a general strike and announce that the province will separate from Spain and become an independent republic.

This is a short summary of the sequence of the events, but, what is the big picture behind these facts? What are the true interests and motives of the parties in this conflict?

Catalonia is often compared to Kosovo, Donbass, or even Crimea (where, as we know, the authorities separated from Ukraine, before they engineered the accession to Russia). A more correct comparison would be to Scotland, where nationalists also came to power and organized a referendum, which ended in a victory of the supporters of the unity with Great Britain. Finally, many recall Antonov-Ovseenko’s analogy. During his time in 1930s in Spain engulfed in civil war he called Catalonia “Spanish Ukraine”.

The situations of Catalonia and Scotland are, in fact, similar in two respects. To begin with, in both places we are dealing with the revolt of the rich against the poor. More developed regions with a high standard of living do not want to give up their resources to support less prosperous and backward provinces.

The unexpected aspirations of Scotland and Catalonia for independence have one more, less public, though no less significant underlying reason. For many years, both regions have been implementing European Union programs aimed at creation of a new system of institutions, separated from the regional state and directly tied to the Brussels bureaucracy. This is the essence of the program entitled “Europe of the Regions”. Every Scottish county has a program financed by the EU, while England or Northern Ireland do not get help on a comparable scale. Brussels was consistently and consciously created the “Scottish factor” as a counterbalance to Britain, which traditionally opposed the Eurocrats.

The transformation of national discrimination from real experience into a political myth is the most important factor conducive to the rise of nationalism. Those who are discriminated against are fighting for the abolition of discrimination, whereas the nationalists turn the grievances of the past into symbolic capital to justify their ambitions.

But who needs to take into account Spanish-speaking workers? They are the “invaders”! If we look for comparisons, what is happening is similar to the time of the collapse of the USSR, and Catalonia is dominated by the same monstrous illusions that were sown by nationalists at the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union. However, what is happening now has a deeper basis in the sphere of political economy. This is not an accident that the triumph of neo-liberalism was accompanied everywhere by the crisis of national states and federations, the emergence and flourishing of all sorts of separatism, including exotic ones. In this sense, there is no difference between the ruling circles of Madrid and Barcelona.


This article has been excerpted from: ‘Catalonia: The Revolt of the Rich’.