Scottish Hangover and Patriotic Language GamesBy Imanol Galfarsoro • Oct 12th, 2014 • Category: Albistekaria
Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better. Samuel Beckett
Against all odds Tariq Ali surprises us with unexpected tired expressions archetypal in wide sections of the metropolitan intellectual Left. He does so in an otherwise excellent and all-embracing interview to the Barcelona-based leftwing magazine CRITIC. In addition to mussing about current global geo-politics at length, the interview itself begins by focusing on European matters, most particularly as he establishes the differences between the Scottish and Catalan pro-independence movements. This Tariq Ali does as follows:
“The Catalan movement for self-determination is led by the Catalan bourgeoisie. This is the truth. The Catalan bourgeoisie assumes that Catalonia is richer than the rest of Spain and wonders, “Why do not we spend that money on us?”. The Scottish campaign was not a movement led by the rich: banking and strong figures of the Scottish bourgeoisie supported the no, including Edinburgh, a city that has always been petty bourgeois. So this is the basic sociological difference. This is important because I think the left will have more problems in Catalonia”.
This is not the truth … entirely. The entire truth is more like this: The Catalan movement for self-determination is led by some sections of the Catalan bourgeoisie in the institutions. This is so because they cannot do otherwise if they are to keep a grip on the political situation – a no-return situation, in fact, which has been generated over the years by a wide and largely leftist pro-independence social movement in the streets. The metropolitan Leftist infantile commonplace that Catalonia seeks independence only because it is richer than the rest of Spain is not true and it is indeed irrelevant to the question. Recall that aspiring to spend money and managing resources locally was and is a central argument of the Scottish pro-independence movement too!
No, like the Scottish campaign, the Catalan campaign is not a movement led by the rich. Banking and strong figures of the Catalan bourgeoisie are definitely against independence. Some have deep roots in what is known in Spain as “the sociological Francoism,” and what they support ranges from suspending devolution to outright intervention of the army! Others feel comfortable with autonomy but not at all with independence. Another matter is that due to a robust and sustained popular pressure they are now compelled to embrace the discourse of independence. However, this is as a last resort. For the ultimate aim is to keep up the pressure on the Madrid central government in order to seek a more federal arrangement of the state. Hence the chances are very high that they will eventually backtrack as crunch time approaches.
Now, whether Edinburgh voted No to independence because it is a petty bourgeois city can not hide this fact, which is quite true as well: the overall pro-independence movement in Scotland was also led by the petty bourgeoisie, if such is the terminology one must use. And let us not forget this: they did ultimately achieve the original political objective denied in the Yes/No referendum as initially imposed by PM David Cameron, the Conservative Party and, by extension, the whole of the Westminster establishment. In other words, with the promise of what is known as devo-max or an extended autonomy, the preferred choice of the Scottish National Party prior to the referendum campaign proper has been now attained. Or at least senior figures of the pro-union coalition gave the solemn word that such will be the case should the No vote prevail as it indeed did.
Certainly, the imposition of this Yes/No referendum was based on a very complacent belief in London; namely, that the No vote would win by such a handsome margin that it would kill pro-independence aspirations for the long foreseeable future. At the end, some may even venture to claim this turned out to be the case. However, the two years long referendum campaign has also produced an unexpected outcome: the emergence of an unquestionably effective and more than probably powerful radical pro-independence Left in Scotland. Yet by the same token, we should not forget that this movement is practically as old as the referendum campaign itself: two years. Unlike the Catalan, or for that matter other pro-independence Left movements in Europe, which have been around for quite a while.
In fact, I think that the Left will have more problems in Scotland than Tariq Ali anticipates, certainly for growing into a trustworthy government alternative. In terms of electoral politics, for instance, we only have to look at the chances of some of the groups making up the EUL/NGL (European United Left-Nordic Green Left): Syriza is more likely to win the next elections in Greece; likewise the possibility for the Pro-Independence Left Coalition to actually become the first political force in the next Basque elections is more than real; and so is the case with Sinn Féin in the Republic of Ireland for that matter. By comparison, although obviously sexier in Left metropolitan circles, the chances to achieve the same degree of electoral success by Podemos and the United Left in Spain or the Portuguese Communist Party, say, are just that bit slimmer.
Hence what remains to be seen in Scotland is not only that the intensity of the Radical Independence Campaign (RIC) can be maintained at the extraordinary level of engagement that it was during the entire referendum campaign; but also that this results in tangible electoral gains and representation. I certainly hope so, and also, that in the next elections to the Scottish parliament, enough force and momentum is gathered altogether to achieve the political objective of independence in the next five years, as Tariq Ali predicts somewhere else in the interview.
In the mean time, Tariq Ali himself must be made aware of yet another less visible perhaps but true fact nonetheless: the master puppeteers, as it were, pulling the strings of the pro-independence movement in Catalonia are not the rich bourgeoisie but the republican and radical Left.
A particular, localized socio-political struggle is at the same time the struggle in which the fate of the entire universe is being decided Slavoj Zizek
The Catalan and Scottish pro-independence movements are clearly different although in both cases radical Left activist groups and social movements influence the political process decisively. However, wide sections of the traditional Left within established nation-states profess a built-in reluctance to accept this: Left pro-independence movements aspiring to achieve new forms of statehood within Europe have no obligation whatsoever to display credentials authenticating their commitment to build open, democratic and cosmopolitan societies. This despite the fact that, no matter what, the most recalcitrant opponents will always dismiss pro-independence inclinations as parochial, intolerant and closed in themselves!
Because you know! Wherever you find movements of national liberation in Europe you will equally find the equivalents to Gordon Brown and George Galloway in Scotland intent on linking independence with narrow nationalism and unionism with true patriotism. Typically, these are more or less Left-wing figures from stateless nations who side with the existing nation-state; who side, in other words, with the equivalents of Ed Miliband and Owen Jones in England, on the basis of some pertinent but also, more often than not, spurious not to say malicious arguments in favour of unity.
An important pro-union argument arises from the emphasis placed on a sense of shared history understood as the venerable repository of national unity. But surely in the Left there must be more to it than a benign historicism, one that is to say that refers back to a ritualistic glorifying of past artistic and scientific achievements while making sure everybody knows how uneasy one feels about past colonial wars and empire! And of course there is: It is the working class, stupid! So much so that Owen Jones finds it acceptable to use a hipster discourse of provenance and authenticity when talking about the joint social struggles and cultural experiences of our ‘ancestors’ in England, Scotland and Wales to support his plea for the unity of the working class in Britain – the properly obvious albeit less trendy internationalist question being: why not thinking instead of the proletarian ‘ancestors’ in Europe and, by extension, the entire world?
So what we have here is the combined argument against the division of the working class within the legendary confines of an already existing and forever-united nation-state. To this “inter-classist” argument, if ever there was one, then follows another vacuously grandiose appeal – one, which typically warns against the futility of creating new divisions and borders in the age of globalization. But surely, again, in the age of globalization, and considering that the main trade competitors are giant-enormous countries such as China, India and the like, internal territorial shifts within Europe should matter rather little, should they not! And certainly, the claim that these new potential states within Europe only serve the interests of the local bourgeois elites as George Galloway (among many others) often do(es), is a bit out of sync, is it not? Or is it perhaps the case that soviet-styled workers councils rule Britannia and Hispania as we speak?
Then there is another couple of arguments, one benign considering, and the other vile to the point of utter disgust that always reverberate out of the above discussions. The first refers to establishing a clear difference between what is important and what is not. Hence we should recognise, so the well-known unionist argument goes, that what is rather urgent and pressing is the social and economic wellbeing of citizens in times of hardship. As a consequence, we should not waste our precious time in divisive let alone impractical and unrealistic political projects. Impeccable as this argument appears to be, one should still ask why then newborn states seldom strive for a return to the previous status quo, as contemporary historical evidence clearly suggest!
The second refers most particularly to Left politicians and also intellectuals who support the legitimacy of existing nation-states outright. The problem here is that in order to support the state, usually under the guise of stating the opposite (borders separate, I am a citizen of the world etc) state-bound Leftists often resort to adding insult to those holding pro-independence aspirations as a means to compensate for their own particularly disavowed nationalist injury. What easier then than gratuitously abuse political opponents by calling them names associated with the negative connotations of the word nationalist: xenophobe, racist, ethnic cleansing… However, this (mis)use of insulting clichés can only be considered to be the outcome of a sore wound right at the heart of metropolitan progressive Leftists, one which results from the inability to let their own blind patriotic allegiance to a particular nation-state go; a nation-state, let us not forget, responsible for the actual killing of tens of thousands fundamentalist barbarians, mind you, in the good name of democracy, freedom and human rights; and also in the case of interculturalist New Labour, remember, in the name and defence of our Western values and way of live?
Come to this point, instead of childishly cheating oneself when playing solitaire card games, what metropolitan progressive Leftists should strive to unpack is the relationship between what they explicitly say and the untold, implicit presuppositions sustaining their statements. But beware for customary universalistic posturing will not do the trick: We all know that under the hat of easy anti-nationalist denunciation hides the rabbit of one’s own patriotically faithful allegiance to a particular nation-state.
So to wrap all this up, as opposed to dubious notions such as ‘nationalism’ or even odd ones such as ‘humanitarian war’ there are other words like universalism, cosmopolitan, democracy or for that matter, love, with a positive aura of their own. However, everybody will agree that “love” kills more people, that is to say, men kill in the name of love more women than Scottish “narrow nationalism” kills migrants, say – narrow nationalism being a pejorative term Gordon Brown has used frequently in his intellectual and political career to dismiss the claims of the pro-independence movement in Scotland. As to migrants, believe you me on that, we do not need Ed Miliband shamelessly utilizing the good name of his radical Marxist father to lay out the contours of Labour’s anti-migration policies: “I am the proud son of a Jewish migrant who fought for this country in WWII, however, we now must listen to what decent, hard working people have to say and restrict new comers access to Britain because blah blah blah”.
How perverse and how obscene! Listen to people what? At least on this point Gordon Brown was absolutely right on as he made justice to the cosmopolitan openness of his Scottish origins when calling that awful British working class old lady what she really was: a bigot!
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Ps: There is something to be said beyond the nicely soothing narcissism of the lost cause that Samuel Beckett’s quotation perhaps suggests, and which all intellectuals, Left liberal and radical alike, metropolitan or otherwise, like to reproduce here or there as indeed I have above. It refers to how a gradation of priorities is established in terms of some liberation struggles being more worthy of our support than others. A reminder here is necessary as to the workings of a major misleading belief. We often hear that direct political and intellectual intervention in rich, First World countries amounts to a capriciously shameless game played out from an extremely privileged position. As Slavoj Zizek states (in The Parallax View, 2006, 129), for instance: “Every exclusive focus on First World topics […] cannot but appear cynical in the face of raw Third World poverty, hunger and violence.” So the question arises as to what is the point of looking at concrete situations such as those going on in Scotland or elsewhere in Europe, for that matter, when we know for sure that the following quasi-standard de-mobilising quip will have to be confronted sooner rather than later, namely: “What is the point of Scottish independence if there are much more important things going on in the world”. The main aim of such kind of remarks, obviously, is to disarm the legitimacy of certain ongoing civic and political claims for self-determination, freedom and equality within a context, which is obviously European and hence First World. Yet as Zizek continues: “On the other hand, attempts to dismiss First World problems as trivial in comparison with “real” permanent Third World catastrophes are no less a fake – focusing on the “real problems” of the Third World is the ultimate form of escapism, of avoiding confrontation with the antagonisms of one’s own society”. Therefore, the misleading belief or even fallacy ultimately leading towards NOT confronting the antagonisms of one’s own society on the basis of a too straightforward gradation of binary priorities (global / local, north / south, rich / poor … universal / particular) has to be disarmed. This is what Zizek (Conversations, 2005, 88 ) implies in the quote which we reproduce here again: “A particular, localized socio-political struggle is at the same time the struggle in which the fate of the entire universe is being decided”. As we speak, our heart is with the Kurdish engaged in the (armed) struggle for the universal taking place at Kobane!
Imanol Galfarsoro Bere ikasketak eta irakaslanak Frantzian, Londresen eta Renon burutu ondoren orain Leeds-eko uniberstitatean ari da Komunikabide eta Soziologia sailen artean multikulturalismoari buruz lanak egiten. Kultura eta identitate erbesteratuak (Nomadologua subalternoak) (Pamiela, 2005) eta Subordinazioaren Kontra (Pamiela, 2008) liburuen egile, Zizek Ikasketak-Nazioarteko Aldizkaria elkektronikoan (IJZS) itzulpen eta edizio lanetan dihardu, Ikasketa Subalterno kolektibotik sortutako Critical Stew proiektoaren kide da eta Lapiko Kritiko euskarazko sailaren suztatzaile.
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