Saturday, December 3, 2022
logo economy journal
< view full issue: Nationalism and far right (I)
Peru Erroteta

The surprising effect of camouflage in Catalonian nationalism


No-one denies that the DNA of Catalonian nationalism is a purely conservative affaire. However, throughout the "Procés" their discourse has been mutating, to the point of presenting itself as just the opposite. Something that, in light of the facts, has to do much more with camouflage than with reality. In any case, a good part of the materials used for this have come from the Left.

Bandera independentista

Stéphane Michonneau, professor of contemporary history at the University of Lille and author of numerous works on Catalonia, says that Catalonian nationalism is part of a wave of nationalisms that emerged in part because of everything happening this time (late nineteenth century). In the north (Norway), in the centre (Czechoslovakia and the Baltic countries), in the south, Yugoslavia and the Basque Country and in the west of Europe (Ireland). 

In the nineteenth century, Catalonian nationalism is a regionalism that does not differ from other movements of their ilk, which pronounce their regional cultural personality, without questioning their belonging to the Spanish nation.

"It is well known that the love of small homelands is the translation of the global national sentiment", says Michonneau.

The professor, for whom Catalonian nationalism in its origin "is essentially the thought of reform of Spain and an attempt to conquer the liberal state under construction", points out that a part of the Catalonian elites defended Catholicism at all costs. "It was the weight of political legitimism -called Carlism in Spain- that was the cause (...) and this religiousness went hand-in-hand with a hierarchical, authoritarian and holistic social model, in which the value of the community predominated over that of the individual. In general, society was born and interpreted as an Old Regime society, constituted by autonomous estates endowed with privileges ".


These original sources of Catalonian nationalism, anchored in a part of the ascending bourgeoisie (mostly small and medium, and not high as we have sometimes been made to understand) and the rural world, guided by the Church, with a marked presence, nor it is exclusive of Catalonia. Basque nationalism is also a Carlism re-interpreted by the urban petty bourgeoisie of Bilbao. Not in vain, Luis Arana, brother of the founder of the Basque Nationalist Party, Sabino Arana, spent part of his youth in Barcelona in the 80s, when the Catalonian nationalist ideology began to take shape. There are marked differences between both nationalisms, of course (for example, given the greater specific weight of the Catalonian bourgeoisie with respect to the Basque one), but in both cases the marriage, apparently against nature, of Carlism and the lower part of liberalism is present, with a relevant role of the Church. In his book "El caminant davant del congost".

Jordi Pujol himself defends without complexes as an heir of Carlism: "an enormously significant, popular and authentic movement".

Always according to Michonneau, Catalonian nationalism "knew how to ally Carlist circles, quite numerous in the old Pyrenean Catalonia, taking on board some of the issues that it cmprises, such as the defence of Catholicism. On the other hand, argues Michonneau, Catalonian (as the professor calls Catalonian nationalism) knew how to win over a part of the Republican ranks to the cause, which assured him a presence on the Left since 1904 (...) A notable difference of the Basque nationalism, which remained confined to an isolated nationalist party in a local society, the diverse and contradictory Catalanism quickly became a common grid for political movements of diverse origin. "And here the professor errs, because Basque nationalism, in spite of the differences, also became plural and mature political movements, like Basque Nationalist Action, that was defined as being of the Left, republican and independentista, and promoted the United Basque Workers (ELA/STV), a trade union of great social importance. Moreover, in any case, it would be quite debatable to deduce that the appearance of new nationalist readings entailed a displacement of the dominant nationalism from the Right to the Left.

Catalonian nationalism, also like the Basque, was born in the midst of an industrial revolution, which in both territories generated a large, organized and politicized working class. 

The fierce class struggle that was caused is not alien to nationalism, quite the opposite. The social and political tensions make Barcelona the "Rose of fire", of the late nineteenth century, and Vizcaya was instituted in the cradle of socialism. The worker, anti-clerical and revolutionary Left is the antithesis of the of middle class nationalism, homogenized by the Church and the ruling bourgeoisie. In between these opposite poles, as a consequence of the social, ideological, cultural transfers..., new nationalist references emerge that, over time, end up metamorphosing in one direction or another.


As an example, Esquerra Republicana de Cataluña (ERC) was born in this way, whose original ideas have little to do with what it currently professes, and later, ETA in Euskadi or, recently, the CUP, in Catalonia. They claim to be part of the Left, but the facts stubbornly reveal that their nature, their function and their ultimate objectives are nothing but heterodox expressions, simple variables, the original nationalist, with additions of different kinds of course. Also, Professor Michonneau is wrong when, with a not-too-well-hidden sympathy for Catalonian nationalism, he points out that "in a political plane, Catalanism fulfils the same integrating function, mainly conveyed by the restless middle classes. It is a local response to specific problems that the rest of Spain totally ignores. "

Unlike Scotland, where nationalism is a thing of a single party and moreover of the Left, in Catalonia and in Euskadi nationalism, like cells, subdivides itself and tends to occupy a wide social spectrum without abandoning either, to be nationalist or rather the other way around, in most cases. It does so, not mechanically, but through convoluted processes, to which time, social struggles, context, fashions are no strangers... By bring similes into use, we could understand that the PDCat, heir to dominant conservative nationalism, is now the Catalonian Right, ERC would represent a kind of social democracy and the CUP would be almost out of the field of view, on the extreme Left. However, this vision becomes blurred when, getting nearer to the magnifying glass, we discover that the raison d'être of all of them is none other than the independence of Catalonia. Moreover, it turns out that within this spectrum, the more apparent social content is, the more independence also is. In fact, perhaps because of its origins it is, paradoxically, the original nationalism, the most Right wing (PDCat), the one that has made the most profession of faith in moderation. Until now, until a missing note, Carlos Puigdemont, seems to provide evidence to the contrary. This is not the case of the PNV, which, despite everything, remains faithful to its autonomist vocation.

The nationalist cement, which in the case of Catalonia has turned towards extreme independence, is ultimately what defines and explains the raison d'être of the different formations that in their ideology and practice dominate the national reality over any other. 

For example, ETA, undoubtedly influenced by a proletarianized environment, struggles such as that of Algeria and figures like Che Guevara... was, first and foremost and above all, a rabidly nationalist formation and, finally, simply only a nationalist one. In short, their self-proclaimed goal of national and social liberation of Euskadi was a mere proclamation of good intentions, if not a slogan intended to whitewash their image and penetrate social segments, historically reluctant or enemies of nationalism. Of course, Carlism was instituted, even without the implicated ones realising it, in the stranglehold of the radical movement, not only because, as a denial of the father, resorted to that of the grandparents, but rather because of their sense of being in possession of the truth, of Catholic fundamentalism, its fanaticism and the ease with which it justified a recourse to arms.


In the end, no wonder that nationalist relatives tend to lock themselves up in the family, to institute themselves in fronts, when they have much more of what unites them than what separates them. Which, as in the case of "Procés", often results in a single story for a common project. A single people, a single idea, a common goal. And now that we have reached the point we are at, it is worth asking ourselves if the different nationalisms are really so different, or possibly not so much, if the only thing they that identifies them is their degree of radicality. And, from the perspective of the Left, if the more they encourage, the more they hinder social struggles and, objectively constitute a great ally of the ruling classes. Or, on the contrary, parties that nominally claim to be leftist, such as ERC, CUP or Bildu, contribute to weaken nationalism and actually promote social justice? Gramsci could answer this question by raising the question of hegemony. Who or what is decisive in the processes? For example, who holds the hegemony inside the Catalonian sovereignty bloc? From the ideological perspective, the answer can only be, clearly and emphatically, nationalism. And, in addition, nationalism with its worst attributes: ethnicism, supremacism, classism... From then on, it is not surprising that political events lead to what we all know happened.

And here comes the funniest part of history: the passage of nationalism through the beauty salon, with the intention of giving it a facelift, capable of depriving it of its most unpleasant features, of giving it a new image, in keeping with the times, Ta-da... How did they do that? Constructing a story that, like any bedtime story, is narrated to the listeners, without worrying about if it is true or not. As it is fiction, according to many of its protagonists, everything fits into it. From pious lies, to the excessive tricks, the twisted data, the delirious constructions, the chimeras... 

Everything, absolutely everything, is justified by the cause. Thus, in the guiding thread of the discourse, catchphrases, slogans, reductionisms, truisms are linked, which, repeated over and over again, end up becoming doctrine. 

Democracy, freedom, voting is normal, yes, only one people, Spain steals from us, Franco, hello Europe, and so on and so on and so on. All this, well lubricated by an adept media and by a choreography, whose last discovery is the yellow colour.


Does all this fall, like the rain in spring, without being eaten or drunk? Is it the work of the dark bureau (Mas, Vendrell, Homs, Solé) and its collaborators? Is it a creation of organic intellectuals? Is everything reduced to marketing? These and surely many more questions could be posed around the issue that, incidentally, does not stop inciting envy in activist circles. There will surely be everything and more, as in the Lord's wine, (which has a little bit of everything) but there is no doubt that an significant part of the argument of the narrative process has been borrowed, provided or induced by the Left, sometimes in a scandalous manner.

Given the Basque precedent (where a large part of the leftist groups ended up in Herri Batasuna), it is not surprising that the hyperventilated Catalonian leftism (understood as the infantile disease of communism) should be dazzled by the mobilized masses, particularly if we take into account the historical deficit that this flank affects the inner circle. If the fascination for the "people in the street" is added to this, arguments such as the denial of the Constitution of 78, democratic radicalism, sovereignty, transversality..., understood in their own way, the result can only be to become fertile ground for nationalist propaganda. If all this is marred with political decisions as clumsy as the call of Podemos and the Commons to participate as a mobilisation in the no-referendum of the 1st (after denying it legitimacy) and the string of winks and nods, and pure and simple decisions, such as breaking the alliance with the PSC in the Barcelona City Council, the dish is not without waste. A movement in which there was no shortage, rather quite the contrary, of topics such as the "weak link" that, applied to the "Proces", considers Catalonia as the weak point through which the system will end up passing. As a result, by applying pressure at this point, we were not starting, but rather only contributing to the revolution.

This phenomenon of the transfer of ideological and political materials to the enemy, and in particular to nationalism, which once again challenges the Left about its stormy relationship with causes that are not just their own, but are essentially against their own reason for being.



Ronda Universitat 12, 7ª Planta -08007 Barcelona
Tlf (34) 93 301 05 12
Inscrita en el Registro Mercantil de Barcelona al tomo 39.480,
folio 12, hoja B347324, Inscripcion 1




Aviso legal - Cookies