Tuesday, April 15, 2014

"Activating political identity": An interview with Teresa Forcades (II)

By Cristianisme i Justícia
April 9, 2014

Interview by Xavier Casanovas, Oscar Mateos, Santi Torres and Nani Vall-llossera.

Power is no longer in the hands of the conventional actors (the nation-state or the political parties) but something ethereal like "the markets", for example. Although political majorities can be generated, what's the margin to regain political space and power?

Certainly, real power isn't in the representatives of the people but neither is power something ethereal. Since the time that capitalism has been without a counter-power at the global level, three thousand international, bilateral, and multilateral treaties have been signed under the auspices of the WTO. Capitalism hyperregulates, strictly regulates but does so based on very specific interests that are contrary to the public interest. This situation causes a multinational to be able to sue a democratic government when the parliament legislates against the interests of the multinational. That's the main problem now. It's not an ethereal problem but one of political will. Without wanting to simplify it: we have an elephant in the room, and don't want to see the elephant. Well, first we ought to tackle the elephant, and when we've expelled it, keep an eye out so that new baby elephants don't grow too much. Currently treaties are being adopted globally that allow certain corporations have greater influence than the democratic powers of some countries.

In the case of Europe, you have some treaties that cancel or limit the decisionmaking powers of the parliaments, and moreover we have a Treaty of Lisbon that plays the role of "constitution" without having been voted on by the people and that in practice, limits what a parliament can do. So we have a subversion of democracy that's not ethereal but factual, with names. I would like to speak very clearly and explain the need to cancel all these treaties: there can be no agreement above a democratic decision. There can be no treaty that has more weight than the decisions of a parliament. This is nothing new and has been the object of political and economic analysis by economists such as Stiglitz as well as ours, like Arcadi Oliveres. But the political will doesn't exist because there's economic dependency of the political representatives with respect to these powers that be and the financing of the parties has a lot to do with this.

You often speak of capitalism as a "giant with feet of clay". What does that metaphor mean?

Yes, it's a metaphor drawn from the Bible (Dn. 2:31-35). When you look at it from below, its height, the gold, its power...you get dizzy, but when you look at its feet you realize it stands on clay. This situation can't be explained without talking about a certain amount of cultural alienation and repressive force. The same situation has been repeated throughout history. Authors such as Seneca, Cicero...philosophers, thinkers, people gifted with great intellectual substance criticized the idea of deification of the emperor, but most of the population passively accepted this fact that today seems absurd to us. In the human mind of intelligent people there are often mechanisms that block action for justice, because that which should be removed exercises reverential awe over them. We don't have that awe of our politicians today. So to whom do we pay that reverence? I think, just as Marxist analysis of alienation has denounced it, we have this awe or this respect (what Marx called "fetichism") for money and the economic system -- the economic system is untouchable. And who said that? Who made that economic system? We made it, didn't we? Then, if we're the ones who made it and we like it, let's keep it, but if we don't like it, of course we have to change it! Without thinking twice.

Liberation philosopher Enrique Dussel in his work Las metáforas teológicas de Karl Marx ("The theological metaphors of Karl Marx) states that Marx recovers the concept of "fetish" from the Bible, specifically from the Old Testament prophets. A fetish is something made by human hands (the word "fetish" comes from the Latin facere), something "made" that, forgetting that it's our product, we put on a pedestal, worship it, and let it require human sacrifices from us. No, don't do that! If you want to kneel down, do it before the living God who gives you life and who will never ask human sacrifices from you, but not before a fetish that's the fruit of your hands. Well, that criticism, which is the prophets' criticism, Marx states is what we ourselves have done with money and the capitalist economic system. Something we have made ourselves, we have put on a pedestal, we have knelt down and we're allowing it to demand human sacrifices of us. In Spain, we've changed the Constitution overnight without any kind of referendum to worship the fetish -- we've decreed that the debt and economic convergence criteria are above social necessities. A topsy-turvy world. The good news is that the economic system is "something built by human hands" and, therefore, if we overcome the fetishist dynamic, we would realize that it depends on us and not the reverse. The economic system can and should be changed when it excludes and harms the majority of the population.

To do this, you stress in your writings "regaining political identity." What is that?

From the beginning of history as we know it until now, all social change seeking greater social justice has been change from below. It's logical. If you have a system of social inequality with people below and people on top, why would those on top want to change anything? There might be individual cases of change of heart -- it happens sometimes -- people from a privileged environment who realize that "this doesn't work," but to become political agents of change, the people "from the top" must join agents acting from below. Rather than "regaining", I prefer to talk about "activating," because you can only regain what you've previously lost and you can never lose political identity -- it's intrinsic to the individual, it's what you are. Nor can anyone grant it to you but it's part of your being as a person, and for me it's linked more with the fact of "being in the image of God" than with citizenship. That's how I see it, but each one can say it in their own words, and speak of "individual dignity," for example. Except that through a mechanism of alienation, my political identity can remain inactive and so I stop being aware that I have it. Hence the importance of activating that identity, and that's what one notices happening in our country -- a process of activating political identity. The powers that be are realizing it and not taking long to respond. They're never still.

But even though, in fact, people are becoming active, the question is how to channel that. There's a malaise, an activation, but due to the crisis in intermediaries like the political parties and the big unions sometimes it has no outlet and goes no further. What tools do we have to give an outlet for this activation of the political person?

First it must be said that there are parties that are channels for this political activation towards a rupture. In Catalonia we have the case of the CUP (Candidaturas de Unidad Popular -- Popular Unity Candidacies). There are also small and not so small unions like Telefónica's COBAS union [telecommunication workers union of Spain], that are waging their struggle in an exemplary manner. There's movement. It's like the prophet Elijah when he says "I'm alone, I'm the only one who hasn't worshiped the gods of Baal," but when he gets active he meets seven thousand more who have remained faithful who help him make the revolution (see 1 Kings 19:14 vs. 1 Kings 19:18). Thus there are already people here who have been working a while and working well. I've seen the channeling through Procés Constituent not just as a movement in which I'm involved but as a kind of plan that can work.

I think Procés Constituent is a good tool that can be generalized to other contexts. It's a plan that instead of wanting to form a macro-structure or a political party that would seek to perpetuate itself in power, seeks to make possible a strategic alliance of rupture between very diverse social movements, already existing parties and individuals and collectives who up until now haven't felt called to political involvement. That alliances should be as broad as possible because if it isn't broad, it won't be able to have a majority. In our case, the political situation and Catalonia's desire for political independence have also been instrumental. That desire also allowed us to introduce the deepest and broadest possible discussion about the conditions of coexistence and political organization.

Therefore it can't be extrapolated to other parts of Spain.

In the rest of Spain, it must become specific to each place. You have to channel an existing malaise towards a viable political strategy. How? There's not one formula for everyone. We have to know where we are. In the Basque Country it will be different than in Andalusia or Galicia or Madrid.

In Catalonia we should take advantage of this momentum of struggle for independence, which on the other hand is a classic momentum. When there's an increase in social malaise, then that deviates towards nationalist demands. This has happened throughout history, and the most recent case we have is the German reunification. Tired of years of Communist regime, hearing them talk about "the people" without the real people having a voice or vote, the people of East Germany went into the street crying "Wir sind das folk" ("We are the people") and not the Politburo. Faced with this wave of demands that had the potential to create a real social state in East Germany, faced with the threat this meant towards the sleeping conscience and alienation of the capitalist part, Helmut Kohl was sufficiently skillful to steer this "Wir sind das folk" towards "Wir sind ein folk" ("we are one people"). Thus it was said that East Germany's cry was for reunification. And so a new argument began -- let's privatize everything because what matters is that "we go back to being all together." And here the price to pay was the privatization of all public properties in East Germany that after having been managed by a central committee had begun to be self-managed in an alternative way. Everything was interrupted to achieve that "finally we Germans can get back together again, heal our historical wounds, our centuries old humiliation, etc..."

Something like that could happen in Catalonia. There are people who are for independence and strengthening nationalism, leaving the social issue for later, but we, on the other hand, support strengthening a constitutional process that works clearly for a new economic, political, and social order. We can't allow the national issue and the social issue to be separated.

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