Misc 25/08/2015

In a straight line

Kant said that people can use their freedom to act in many ways, both good and bad, but in reality we are only truly free when we use our freedom to do good

Toni Comín
4 min

There is a significant part of Catalan society that, politically, has always been guided by the same principles and values, which has allowed them to define their project at each historical juncture: the principles of Catalanism (Catalan nationalism), on one hand, and the principles of the left--or if you prefer, socialism-- on the other.

Catalanism: to guarantee that Catalonia is respected as a political and cultural subject. To recognize Catalonia as a nation, with secular historic roots, but particularly with regard to the future. Catalanism also means to seek a respectful and friendly coexistence with Spain, with which it has such deep ties that it would be foolish to ignore them. And it means having a pro-Europe stance: we are an inseparable part of Europe’s history, which has been the essential reference in key moments of our history --the industrial revolution, the transition to democracy, etc.-- and today we aspire to a more politically integrated Europe. Catalanism, in short, has to do with our dignity as a people and with our collective freedom.

The left: socialism, social democracy, radical or alternative left... let us set the nuances aside for the moment, important as they may be. We know the basic idea quite well: true equality of opportunity and a greater equality of results, social rights effectively guaranteed --to education, healthcare, jobs, housing, etc.--, better public services, a welfare state worthy of the name, and a relentless war on poverty. The left is about the freedom of each of us as citizens, a freedom that without social rights is no more than a mere formality, a pretty but abstract word. The left is, basically, a struggle for social justice.

Those who have always had these two sets of principles as the North Star of their political commitment, where were they in the 1970s? They most probably participated in the great movement in favor of democracy, the movement that had the PSUC (1) --"the party"-- as its main reference. Because without democracy, the goals of both Catalanism and the left would simply be impossible dreams.

Kant said that people can use their freedom to act in many ways, both good and bad, but in reality we are only truly free when we use our freedom to do good. With democracy, something similar is true: has this political system any value in itself --who would doubt it?--, but it makes much more sense when it serves to make socially just countries where national freedom is respected.

In the 1990s, after twenty years and with democracy firmly established, this part of Catalan society had to admit to itself the truth: if it wanted to continue on the path of Catalanism and the left, it was clear that "this democracy" was not enough. It was then when Pasqual Maragall presented his dual proposal: an alternative on the left in Catalonia and a federal reform in Spain. Maragall’s federalism was pluri-national. But equally, or more important that that, was that it was a social federalism. And here is where the adjectives were completely substantive. Pluri-national federalism meant that, while still a part of Spain, our political autonomy would be respected. Social federalism meant that the Catalan Statute would have to give us more resources and more responsibilities to build a true welfare state. "The Statute must allow us to fix our communities and our schools"--remember that? Translation: we wanted more self-government to create better social policies (on immigration, education, etc).

Twenty years later, following the infamous ruling that left us with no more than the little bit of sovereignty that the 1978 Constitution granted to Catalonia, everyone understood-- even those who still won’t admit it today-- that federalism in Spain was destined to be the star of the story "what could have been but wasn’t". With this being so, how could the people who were "Catalanist and Leftist" their whole lives continue being true to their principles? To resign themselves to the status quo --a Spain divided into autonomous regions-- would mean renouncing both their Catalanist and their leftist ideals.

As a result, after the 2010 ruling, a large number of these people have quite naturally opted for independence. Because they understand that only in this way will it be possible to guarantee the national dignity of this small nation --without renouncing, at the same time, a good neighborly relationship with Spain. And because they see that we will only be able to create a quality welfare state if we have the tools of an independent country. Social independence: once again, what matters is the adjective.

This has been the trajectory for a significant number of the people of this nation. People who began with the PSUC in the 1970s, who believed in the proposals of Maragall and the tripartite governments at the end of the 90s, and who today believe in a leftist pro-independence option. People who, if I may put it this way, have always moved in a straight line: their principles and the political projects deriving from them --a politically free and socially just Catalonia-- have not changed. They have always been the same. What has changed, however, are the instruments that this political project has needed at each moment of history: democracy, federalism, independence.

But none of these instruments define, in themselves, an ideology. Saying this does not undermine their value-- on the contrary: we recognize their true meaning. The ideology is, and has always been, Catalanism and the left. And if in each moment of history it was necessary to opt for a different instrument, never on a whim, but rather to remain loyal to the fundamental project and the principles that inspired it. That is, to continue to move ahead in a straight line.


(1) N.T. Catalonia’s Partit Socialista Unificat (“Unified Socialist Party” or PSUC) was the main party on the left in the 1970’s.