The European Left needs to wake up - on Catalonia, there is no middle ground

Hope for Europe doesn’t lie with Macron, Rajoy or Merkel. It lies with radical democratic movements from below.

Jonathon Shafi
2 November 2017

Catalonia on strike over the violence of the Guardia Civil on October 3, 2017. NurPhoto/Press Association. All rights reserved.

Millions of people have been inspired by the peaceful, mass resistance to the repression of the Spanish state machine shown by the people of Catalonia. And it has become clear for many that the outcome of this battle will have a major impact well beyond Spain.

The embryonic Catalan Republic must take root, and it must establish itself as an independent state. But for that to happen we need to analyse the weaknesses in the situation alongside the inspiration being generated by a courageous movement determined to defend democracy.

And unfortunately there needs to be a short sharp argument with much of the European Left, who have failed to recognise both the immediate and the long term strategic implications of the Catalan crisis.

We must face up to the fact that Catalonia is unlikely to be recognised by any EU member state. The international architecture of European capitalism is ranged against them. This raises fundamental questions for all democrats in Europe. How can we rebuild popular sovereignty? How can we build a radically democratic Europe? These questions - and at least some of the answers - are wrapped up in the Catalonian struggle. We need to apply pressure to the institutions, and urgently.

The stakes are high. A victory for Spain in what is to come would be an explicit victory for for right-wing nationalism and authoritarianism. There is no middle ground. But this reality is being subordinated by a combination of abstraction and a scholastic view of nationalism for too many forces on the left. Everyone is needed now. We are duty bound to fall on the right side of history. History moves in ways that are not going to align neatly into a labelled box. We must draw generality from nuance. And we must see the complexity that underlies the European crisis and from that draw a strategy that meets the times.

UDI has been declared. If it is to mean more than a negotiating tool, the state now must be built. There is a sense that the Catalan establishment don't have a plan, and we can foresee many twists and turns. It has been the mass movement that has forced the situation to progress. Providing solidarity is a concrete task in maintaining the momentum and preventing Spain from taking the initiative. This can be done in many ways, But both the Spanish state and the Catalan people must know Europe is watching.

It’s difficult to overstate the consequences should the fragile Catalan Republic not succeed. This is not a localised question - it lies at the heart of the major social and democratic fault-lines in Europe, including the demand for ‘sovereignty’. A new form of citizenship must emerge to build a people's Europe.

Hope for Europe doesn’t lie with Macron, Rajoy or Merkel. It lies with radical democratic movements from below. That is why Catalonia is a bigger crisis for Europe than Brexit, because it challenges the superstructure while at the same time coming from a popular movement.

The radical right has sought to dominate questions of sovereignty. The race for the future of Europe is on. In Catalonia there is a chance for an alternative breakthrough - a new phase which the radical left can shape. A new phase that subverts oligarchy and neoliberalism, underpinned by popular mechanisms of control over the economy and in the social development of a Europe based on dignity and unity.

The Labour left in the UK argue that a Corbyn government would open a new chapter. Undoubtedly it would. But there is also no doubt that any serious project of the left that doesn't involve radical democratisation of unreconstructed empire states will also undermine it.

It would represent a real step forward for everyone concerned with the future of the left if Die Linke, Podemos, UK Labour and others were to recognise the strategic opportunities that flow from the process of rupture, as well as the fact that these processes are deserving of solidarity - especially in the context of Europe in decline. A decline that is only being stymied by elites developing ever narrower fields for the popular will to be exerted.

All of this means national questions are therefore a permanent feature of the ongoing crisis, though they will fluctuate. Scotland is not Catalonia - of course. Different histories, different dynamics, different cultures. But they do inhabit the same political moment. The task is to elevate the essence of the situation - a striving for democracy, control and justice - into a strategy that will chart a new post imperial framework. And so it is in the interest of the whole of the European Left that Catalonia succeeds. There is a huge and historic responsibility on the CUP and the radical left in particular. Why would we not support them with everything we have - and in doing so develop the capacity for a genuinely radical, international left that can challenge not just for a new form of democratic sovereignty, but for a new system?

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