Nationalism is an ideological poison that the bourgeoisie uses, either to dragoon the working class into its wars, or to divert the struggle of classes onto a corrupt and sterile terrain. The recent nationalist manifestations in Catalonia perfectly illustrate this trap laid by the bourgeoisie for the proletariat. This is why we are publishing a translation of an article by our section in Spain which draws on the essential lessons of these events.
On September 11 last, a million-and-a-half people in Barcelona demonstrated for “their own state inside of Europe”.
This event has been analysed widely in the media: is the independence of Catalonia viable? Why does Catalonia want “a divorce” from Spain? Will Catalans live better after independence? Is it true that Catalonia brings more to Spain than it receives from it? Should a federal state be created?
Another viewpoint is lacking however: that of the proletariat, the social class which through its historic struggle represents the future for humanity. Here is an interpretation of the question from the viewpoint of the struggle between classes, summed up in the phrase: nation or class?
To fight for the nation means fighting for the interests of Capital
On September 11 we saw Felop Puig (Minister of the Interior for the Catalan Generalidad, the man responsible for the violent repression launched against the massive demonstrations of last year and organiser of the twisted police provocations against the demonstrators) amicably walking alongside his victims, young unemployed and precarious workers. We saw nine of the eleven ministers of the regional government, who were in the first line of unleashing ruthless attacks on the health and education sectors, marching side-by-side with their victims: the doctors and nurses who lost 30% of their wages, the patients who must pay a euro each time they make a visit to the doctor or pay for a part of their medication. We saw bosses, police, priests, union leaders, all sharing the street with their victims: unemployed, workers, retired, immigrants... An atmosphere of NATIONAL UNION presided over the event. Capital was taking in its exploited and transforming them into useful idiots for its egoistic goals.
It’s highly probable that an important number of demonstrators did not share the goal of independence. Perhaps they were there because they didn’t support the attacks, unemployment, the absence of a future; but what is certain is that their unease has been channelled by Capital towards its terrain - towards the defence of the nation. The anger of the workers wasn’t being expressed for their own interests, still less for the liberation of humanity, but solely and exclusively for the benefit of Capital!
They are telling us that the struggle for Catalonian independence weakens the Spanish state! They are telling us that supporting Catalonian independence sharpens the contradictions of Capital between its “Spanish” and “Catalan” fractions.
If the proletariat fights behind flags that are not its own – and the national flag is completely opposed to its interests – then it will STRENGTHEN Capital and all of its fractions. It’s possible that it will sharpen contradictions between them, but these are channelled into their crises, their wars, their gangster conflicts and family fights. In other words, they end up being part of the barbaric and destructive machinery of capitalism.
The nation is not the community of all those that live in the same land, but the private property of all the capitalists, thanks to which it organises the oppression and exploitation of its “beloved citizens”. It wasn’t by chance that the slogan of the demonstration was “Catalonia should have its own state”. The nation, this lovely, warm word, is inseparable from that is not so lovely, from the cold and impersonal state with its prisons, law courts, armies, police and bureaucracy.
President of the Catalonian Generalidad, Mas, has promised a referendum. Although we don’t know what questions will be put we can be sure that he wants the same as his Spanish “colleagues”: that is, to make us choose between three options, each one worse than the other. Do you want the readjustments and cuts made by the Spanish state? Do you want them to be imposed in the framework of the “national construction of Catalonia”? Or else do you want the Spanish state and the Catalan candidate to bring you together? Capital in Spain has at its disposal two countries to impose the same misery, “Spanish” and “Catalan”.
How did we get to this point?
What are the mechanisms that make the workers march alongside their executioners, who, as a Spanish chief of police (a colleague of the above named Puig) made clear, see the workers as the enemy.
There are several of them but in our opinion there are three which are most important:
The decomposition of capitalism. During the first decades of the 20th century, capitalism entered into its decadence, but for almost 30 years this has been further aggravated, leading to a situation which we describe as the decomposition of capitalism. On the political level, this worsening decomposition is shown by a growing tendency of the different fractions of the ruling class to be mired down in “every man for himself”. With the exacerbation of the crisis, this leads to a headlong flight towards chaos. When Mas went to Madrid on September 13 to collect the dividends of the demonstration on the 11th, he said that Spain and Catalonia were like two twins who no longer supported each other. He was correct: nations are a “marriage of convenience” between different fractions of the bourgeoisie. Given the crisis and the decomposition of capitalism, it’s more and more difficult to forge a minimally of serious project which would bind the different fractions together. This pushes each one to play their own game, even if they know that this game would not give them the least perspective. Many nations are being hit by a whirlwind of centrifugal tendencies: Canada with Quebec not wanting to be part of the Federation, in Britain the push towards independence grows in Scotland, not forgetting Belgium, Italy...
But the drama is that these tendencies are infecting and contaminating the proletariat, surrounded as it is by the petty-bourgeoisie – the soup-stock of social decomposition – and both submit to the pressure exercised by the cynical and corrupt behaviour of the dominant class and the propaganda that it spreads around. The proletariat must fight against the effects of this social decomposition and develop the necessary antibodies: faced with the world of frenetic capitalist competition, it must oppose this with solidarity of struggle; faced with a world breaking apart with ruling parties aspiring to become the petty kings of their fiefdoms, it must oppose this with international unity; faced with a world of exclusion and xenophobia, it must oppose this with a struggle based on inclusion and integration.
The difficulties of the working class. At the moment the proletariat has no confidence in its own strength, the majority of workers not recognising themselves as such. This was the Achilles Heel of the Indignant movements in Spain, the United States and elsewhere, where, despite the positive and purposeful elements, the majority of the participants (precarious workers, unemployed, individual workers...) didn’t see themselves as members of their class but as “citizens”. This left them vulnerable to the democratic and nationalist mystifications of capital. This explains why these young unemployed or precarious workers who, a year ago occupied Catalonia Square in Barcelona from where they launched appeals for international solidarity, renaming this place “Tahrir Square”, are today being mobilised behind the national flag of their exploiters.
Nationalist intoxication. Quite conscious of the weaknesses of the proletariat, today the bourgeoisie is playing the nationalist card. Nationalism is not the exclusive patrimony of the right and the extreme right but a common ground shared by the whole political range from the extreme right to the extreme left and also by what is called the “social organisations” (bosses and unions).
The nationalism of the right, attached to its rancid symbols and a repugnant aggressiveness towards foreigners (xenophobia), is not very convincing for the majority of workers (except its most embittered sectors). The nationalism of the left and the unions is more of a draw because it appears as more “open”, more understanding of the realities of daily life. Thus the nationalist speeches of the left propose to us a “national outcome” from the crisis, and for this to happen its asks for a “fair share” of sacrifices. More than justifying sacrifices with their enticement of “make the rich pay”, this also introduces a national vision, presenting a “national community” made up of workers and bosses, exploiters and exploited all united under the “Spanish Flag”. What’s the difference with what was said by Primo de Rivera, leader of the Spanish fascists “workers and bosses, we are in the same boat” (reminiscent of both Cameron’s and Miliband’s ideas).
Another approach prefers the left and the unions, saying “Rajoy is imposing cuts because he doesn’t defend Spain, he is a flunky of Merkel”. The message is clear: the struggle against cuts is a national movement against German oppression and not what it really is - a movement for our human needs against capitalist exploitation. In fact, Rajoy is also an “Espanolista” as was Zapatero, as would be a hypothetical government of Cayo Lara. They all defend Spain by imposing “blood, sweat and tears” on the workers and the great majority of the population.
The union mobilisations of September 15 were called because “they (the government) want to destroy the country”, which means that we, the workers, must fight not for our own interests, but in order to “save the country”, which puts us on the terrain of Capital, the same ground upon which Rajoy proposes to save Spain with the sacrifices of the workers.
The groups which have kept the name “15-M” defend the “most radical” of things but are no less nationalist. They say that we must fight in order to defend “food sovereignty”, which means that we must produce “Spanish” and consume “Spanish”. They also talk about making an “audit of the debt” in order to reject the debts on the grounds that they were “illegitimately imposed on Spain”. Once again: a nationalist position pure and simple. The left, the unions and the fraudulent remains of 15-M are doing great work for the “formation of a national spirit”. It’s similar to what was known in the days of the dictator Franco as a compulsory school subject: today these are the democratic lessons we are being asked to swallow.
Above all we shouldn’t think that all this nationalist poison is only affecting Spain! This is being served up in its local sauce in other countries. In France, Melenchon, leader of a so-called radical Left Front, proclaims that “the battle against the treaty (of “stability” being signed by the “soft” left of Hollande) is a new revolutionary episode for the sovereignty and independence” Nothing less. It takes you back to the times of Jeanne d’Arc!
The nationalist onslaught has no other outcome than making workers fight amongst themselves. Workers in Germany are told that the causes of their sacrifices are the workers of southern Europe, wasters who have been living beyond their means. The workers in Greece are given to understand that their misery is the product of privileges and the luxury in which the German workers live. In Paris, workers are told that it’s better that job cuts are made in Madrid rather than France.
As we see, they bind us up with a Gordian knot of lies that we must break by understanding that the crisis is world-wide, that the cuts are hitting every country. This hammering on about the national problem means that only the 700,000 unemployed of Catalonia are seen or, at its limits, the five million of Spain, and the 200 million unemployed globally are not seen at all. When one only sees the cuts in Catalonia and Spain, one doesn’t see the monstrous cuts imposed, for example, on the “privileged” workers of Holland. When one only sees “our own misery” in Catalan or Spanish terms, one doesn’t see the misery of the world from a proletarian point of view. When one looks through the national optic, narrow, petty and exclusive, one is ready to think, following the honourable Senor Mas, that “if Catalonia is paid the ten billion owed to it, the cuts would be unnecessary”, a regional version of “if Spain weren’t so bound up by Germany, there would be money for health and education”.
Against the division of the world, a struggle for the human world community
Capitalism has created a world market, it has generalised throughout the planet the reign of commodities and wage labour. But that can only work through the associated labour of the whole of the world’s workers. A motor car is not the work of an individual worker, nor of the workers of one factory, not even of the country where it is made. It is the product of the cooperation of many workers of different countries and also of different sectors: not only automobiles, but the metal industry, transport, education, health...
The proletariat has a fundamental strength faced with capitalism: it is an associated producer of the majority of products and services. But it also has the force to give a future to humanity: associated labour which, free of capitalist chains – of the state, of the market and of wages – will allow humanity to live in solidarity and in a real community dedicated to the full satisfaction of its needs and to the progress of the whole of nature.
In order to move in this direction, the proletariat must orientate itself towards the international solidarity of all proletarians. Chained to the nation, the proletariat will always be chained to misery and all sorts of barbarity: chained to the nation, it will always be poisoned by anti-solidarity falsifications, xenophobia, exclusion, patriotism... Chained to the nation, it accepts division and confrontation within its ranks.
No solidarity with our exploiters! Our solidarity must look to the workers of South Africa being crushed by their so-called “black liberators”, our solidarity must look towards the youth and the Palestinian workers who are demonstrating today against their exploiters of the Palestinian “proto-state”. Our solidarity is with the workers of every country.
Unity and solidarity is not with “our citizens”, capitalist Spain or Catalonia, but with the exploited workers of the entire world!
The working class has no country!
Accion Proletaria (ICC, Spain), 16.9.12
. Rajoy is the current head of state (a right winger). Zapatero was the Socialist who preceded him and Cayo Lara is the leader of the Communist Party and the United Left coalition
. 15-M is the common abbreviation for 15 May 2011, the date of the demo which sparked off the Indignant movement in Spain
. Mélenchon’s words translated into English from the Spanish paper El País, 16/09/2012.