Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Teresa Forcades and Esther Vivas: "The challenge is to turn this social majority that is suffering the consequences of the crisis into a political majority"

By Alex Gil Lara (English translation by Rebel Girl)
December 15, 2013

They are two of the most visible leaders of Procés Constituent in Catalonia, but their thesis doesn't stop at the sovereignty demand, but rather they argue that capitalism is incompatible with real radical democracy. This Monday they are presenting their book Sin miedo ("No Fear") in Madrid.

The PhD in Public Health from the University of Barcelona, Teresa Forcades, a Benedictine nun at the monastery of Sant Benet de Montserrat, and the journalist and political activist Esther Vivas converse in the book Sin miedo that is being presented this Monday, December 16th, in the Teatro del Barrio in Madrid. The two agree on the initiative for the Procés Constituent, a movement that is seeking to create the most unified candidacy possible which will run in the next Catalan regional elections. In the book, they go over the causes of the crisis, the delegitimization of the political and economic system, repression and criminalization of protest, the expansion of civil disobedience, alternatives to the current regime, the new politics and the rise of nationalism in Catalonia.

The book is titled Sin Miedo. "No Fear"...of what?

Esther Vivas: Well, what we've seen for a while is that power wants a society of fear, for people to be afraid of change or of imagining that another system is possible. Indeed, apathy, resignation, and fear represent the great victory of the capitalist system, making us believe that we can't change things. It's the message, the discourse with which we've always been inoculated. These are false truths, the myths upon which the system is based: "Nothing can be changed, there is no alternative". But today, in the current crisis, more and more people realize that the system is broken, that capitalism is incompatible with life, freedom, democracy, justice, with people's basic rights. Capitalism does business and the crisis unmasks the system. From here, there is an urgent need to change things. Health care, education, housing, food ... all these can't be a business in the hands of capital, of companies, but have to be universal basic rights. That fear they wanted to put into us, is now beginning to change sides.

Teresa Forcades: No fear that the organized struggle for an alternative to capitalism could lead us to a worse situation than the one we have. Chances are that it would lead us to a situation which, although it would be nothing ideal, would be much better than the current one in terms of respect for basic rights and freedoms. In Iceland, for example, they don't have paradise, but they stood their ground and now they don't have the debt that we have.

This fear you're talking about, does it serve as an instrument of control in our society?

TF: I think there are two kinds of fear that are socially relevant now. One is the fear of being without work or being homeless or undocumented. That fear is due to a real cause and must be respected. You can't encourage people to individually fight for a better world because they won't succeed and will pay a very high price. But fighting alone or in isolation is one thing -- which I don't recommend -- and organizing politically is quite different. That's the second fear: that this organization might end badly. I think this second fear isn't due to any real cause. I think it's due to alienation that we should get shed of the sooner the better. If we do, no one will stop this revolution.

EV: The repressive measures that are approved either by the Catalan government or the Spanish government, show they can't control the situation the easy way. Because the people are becoming aware, mobilizing and being disobedient, the criminalization strategy is the response. The Penal Code is amended, the Public Safety Act, etc. This is another example of the need the powers have to control the situation. Their greatest victory is making us believe we can't change anything, but with the emergence of the indignados movement (the "outraged") and the depth of the crisis, people are beginning to see the need to change things.

Do you think the capitalist system is incompatible with democracy?

EV: Totally. This is another myth of the system: capitalism is synonymous with democracy. The idea is that democracy is only possible with capitalism, but instead the system does not allow real true and radical democracy. We have numerous examples. When the people take to the streets, demonstrate, hold an escrache [small, targeted picket protest] or surround Congress, they're called anti-democratic, coup supporters, filoetarras [ETA lovers] ... The Government's response to the emancipatory and fully democratic aspirations of society is repression and fear. This on the one hand, and on the other, in 2011, we saw how there have been coup d'etats by the markets. The financial elites replaced Berlusconi with Monti, a technocrat, and Papandreou with Papademos, another technocrat. When capitalism comes through the door, democracy goes out the window. They are incompatible systems and this is increasingly apparent to a great number of people.

TF: Yes it is, because, contrary to its official argument, capitalism is not for freedom but for strict regulation which protects the interests of the richest people at the expense of the survival possibility of many millions and at the expense of the welfare of the majority. For example, this week I read in the New York Times that since the fall of the Berlin Wall -- since capitalism has been without a rival on the international level -- more than 3,000 international treaties have been signed aimed at protecting the interests of large multinational against governments. In Namibia, for example, the government has failed to implement the anti-tobacco laws that its parliament adopted because Phillip Morris has sued it for threatening its interests.

Throughout the book, you argue that social change is unstoppable. How can that change be promoted?

TF: I think it will only be if two conditions are met. One is the activation of political protagonism, ie, lose the fear and get organized. The second is unity in diversity -- not pretending to form a homogeneous front, being able to join with people who come from different political, social, and national traditions and sensibilities, to carry out the break from the current model.

EV: First, by proposing alternatives. To be able to assert other policies -- that  different system -- the recovery of democracy involves becoming aware of who wins and who loses from the current situation. Organizing, fighting, mobilizing, committing disobedience ... these are all essential tools and elements to change things. Regaining democracy involves getting outraged. This is the key. And the crisis, although it leads to a situation of social bankruptcy, social tragedy, also offers the opportunity for society to realize the undemocratic nature of the capitalist system, the subordination of policy to economic and financial interests. I think it's the first step to changing things. Awareness is essential to move to action and work with that goal.

It doesn't seem like that's the current dynamic.

EV: Social movements are cyclical and we had an outbreak here, a boiling up of dissatisfaction, of outrage in May 2011 and the following months. Now we're in a different time of the protests, but I think we're in the same cycle of struggles. Today the political class is in great disrepute. The current political system, the institutions, are delegitimized and this offers the opportunity to change things. Bipartisanship is in crisis. When we look at Greece which, in a way, is a mirror of what's happening here, we see that the party system has broken down. More so here in Catalonia, especially with the crisis of the state model and the rise of sovereignism and the independence movement. This questioning opens a space. This is the challenge. I think that today there are many more people who have become aware of the situation than before the crisis and the emergence of 15-M. In my environment, I see many people, not very politicized, who are seeing how friends, relatives, neighbors are having trouble making ends meet, are without work, without income, evicted, etc. The impact of the crisis in everyday life is making them aware. You have to use this to explain the real causes of the crisis. And today, it's not just a handful saying "this is a racket, not just a crisis", it's many more. The challenge is to turn this social majority that suffers the consequences of the crisis in a political majority. Hence the importance of demanding, like right now in Catalonia, the need for a constitutional process, proposing policy alternatives to end the hegemony of a few who monopolize power to their benefit.

What does Procés Constituent entail for the current political landscape?

EV: It proposes a perspective of breaking away from the current institutional and policy framework. Reappropriating policies, the future, using the stage to bring the right to choose, transcending the prudish sovereignism Mas wants, that only proposes a free Catalonia. Mr. Mas also wants a constitutional process but done from above by the political and economic elites of the country. We have to use the debate on independence, on the national question, to be able to say we want to decide everything and we want to take this independence to its logical conclusion. This debate, Convergence or Union, won't guarantee it. Procés Constituent wants a free Catalonia, but also one that is free of poverty, evictions, misery, unemployment, hunger, corrupt politicians, thieving bankers. It wants to be able to decide everything. We have to equip ourselves with a framework that is decided by all the Catalan people. This may seem very abstract, but in some countries in Latin America there have been constitutional processes that have generated a new constitutional framework from popular participation. They're processes that in some cases have had, it's true, contradictory outcomes and have generated significant debate on the left. In any case, these experiences show us that change is possible. We have to learn from their successes and mistakes. A similar case might be Iceland, where the crisis followed a classical leftist government which failed to embody the hopes for change and renewal that society demanded and that had brought them to power. The grassroots Constitution froze. It faltered against the pressures of the European Union. The lesson is that the old left won't get us out of this crisis. Either we organize in a broad sense, or there's no alternative.

TF: Strictly speaking "constitutional process" means the process by which a new constitution is drafted and adopted. At present, in Catalonia, the growing social unrest caused by the cutbacks policies is being channeled toward the goal of independence. We believe that this is insufficient and we want to use the historical moment to push for break away change from the current system, both politically and socio-economically. Specifically, we have begun to organize from the grassroots in regional and sectoral meetings. We currently have about 110 assemblies and some 46,000 members. If we grow and consolidate enough, we will foster a united candidacy for the upcoming regional elections. If the candidacy obtains a majority, we will convene a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution for a Catalan Republic and subsequently submit it to popular approval by referendum.

Does the current democratic framework allow social change?

EV: The current framework, formally, allows you to present yourself for election. Mobilize yourself, but now we see that when anger overflows because real democracy is required, it's repressed. In theory, the system guarantees rights which, in practice, it doesn't allow. We see this every day, on issues such as the right to housing. There are thousands of empty homes and thousands of families are being or have been evicted. Current social rights are the result of a struggle. Nobody will ever give us anything. Stoppping the cutbacks, this social emergency to which they've led us, and getting social improvements will be achieved through social mobilization and disobedience. Throughout history, disobedience has been key to achieving victories. If women have the right to vote it's because the suffragettes were disobedient, if military service was eliminated it's because a number of resisters went to jail, etc. Capitalism doesn't allow a number of rights; what is needed is winning them and imposing a different social system, a different model that breaks with the current system, from an anti-capitalist perspective of rupture.

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