Sunday, November 10, 2019

We only saw the after-effects of one Catalan independence rally when we were in Barcelona last month, though there had been a wilder one the day we arrived (easy to spot demos at a distance by the police helicopters overhead). The one we saw had the feel of a crowd exiting a stadium after the home team has won an important game, hundreds heading out homeward or into bars wearing the red-on-yellow flag of Catalonia, singing “Los pueblos unidos…” with great passion. Even in the bougier neighborhoods, one saw the Catalan flag flying from the balconies of very well-appointed high-rise condos. Spain was brought together, such as it is, several hundred years ago by the marriage of two monarchs & held together more recently by the 70-year fascist dictatorship of Franco. People everywhere kept referring to themselves as Aragone, Andulusian, Castilian or Catalan, not to mention Basque and Galician, regions that have independence movements nearly as active as the one surfacing now in Barcelona. In Madrid and elsewhere, people concede that the European Union and its economic arm, the European Commission, have been a disaster for Southern Europe generally.

Yet it is the right wing that is ascendant in Spain, as it is elsewhere in Europe. The global population movements generated by war and climate change directly impact Europe in a way that the US-Mexico border drama, atrocious and inhuman as it is, barely touches. It’s not just dead babies floating in the Mediterranean: kids in rural parts of Spain are heading north en masse in search of economic opportunity. What terrifies the far right is the replacement of a generation of labor by immigrants. Not unlike the US Trump followers who would rather see states like Wyoming and Mississippi fail than become multicultural, Spain is staring directly at capital’s endgame and does not like what it sees.

Separatist movements invariably are demands for direct control of one’s fate, the embodiment of the local. It makes intuitive sense in the same gut way that locally grown produce does. And yet it is the case that polls in Spain show that, in Catalonia itself, separation and independence would not garner half of the vote in a true election. This is a nation that still remembers the impact of its own Civil War, which notably was not one of regions but of classes. People are understandably loath to wander by accident into a new conflict. The government crackdown that sent the organizers of a vote on the subject to prison for between nine and 13 years shows just how little tolerance there is even for the discussion to take place. Those sentences were doled out by a social-democratic government.

In the US, one begins to see the billionaire class awaken to the threat of socialism in the 2020 election. Bill Gates has decided to wage war with Elizabeth Warren & Bernie Sanders. When he or his surrogates (think Hillary Clinton, Pop-pop Joe Biden or Mayor Pete) argues that Medicare-for-All can’t work, the unspoken predicate of that assertion should read because we won’t let it. Michael Bloomberg is contemplating running for office, I suspect, primarily to ensure that the Democratic nomination will be determined at the convention, ideally (from his perspective) by those ever-loving Superdelegates who owe their careers to Big Pharma, Big Tech and to Wall Street. If Bernie and Warren can’t figure how to combine their campaigns (each speak to a significantly different constituencies), that strategy just might work.

But Marx never yelled Workers of the Upper West Side Unite for good reason. Capital’s greatest power is its willingness to move, mercury-like, to wherever regulation is either non-existent or slavishly compliant. At the end of 2019, six of the twelve largest banks in the world (by market capitalization) already are Chinese. A command economy in the service of capital is not what Marx had in mind. Indeed, it is what some theorists have referred to in the past as fascism. And attempts at cloud-based currencies are all attempts to free capital up from the anchor of any nation-state.

The EU was formed precisely to give Europe some of the collective heft it will need to compete going forward with the likes of the US, China, India and Russia. Not coincidentally, it was hammered together by neoliberal governments and major corporations, without even the fig leaf of labor in the room. It is hardly a surprise that neither Jeremy Corbyn nor the Catalonian separatists look with fondness to Europe to counter the attacks coming from the right.

And yet, and yet, a successful separatist movement anywhere strengthens capital’s capacity to pick up its cards & go home, or at least for a visit to the Caymans. Meanwhile in Barcelona or West Philly, the state is felt only as a large, distant, overpowering Other. This is the knot that progressive economists like Thomas Piketty are trying to untie, under the significant constraint that climate change makes this literally a do-or-die moment in world history.