In English Voices From Spain

A ‘Referendum from below’ that reflects a long ‘Procés from above’

Originally published in Spanish: “Un ‘Referendum dede abajo que refleja un dilatado ‘procés desde arriba’ ‘”. Rubén Díez García. Agenda Pública.

A few days ago an interesting article was published that had a certain impact on influential scholars, who are more unfamiliar to this area of ​​study. The authors drew attention to the fact that in order to understand the Catalan procés, the pressure exerted ‘from below’ must be taken into account. In particular, how the procés not only responds to a logic driven from the Catalan political institutions, but also to another that informs of the great mobilization capacity of the independence movement and of the important role played by numerous groups and organizations of the Catalan civil society in this process. Organizations such as ANC and Òmnium Cultural which, together with «hundreds of grassroots assemblies, neighborhoods, autonomous collectives and anonymous individuals», have channeled the community discomfort and demands for recognition of a part of the Catalan people. This can be seen in the partaking and involvement of this very important and significant part of the Catalan people in the mobilization represented by the symbolic «referendum» held on October 1, in which the Referendum Defense Committees and the «digital social networks”  played a key role, but also other public actions that have taken place in recent years.

This argument goes to show the importance of a classical theory in Sociology and Political Science that would come to say that the social relationships that people establish in the intermediate level of the social structure, through intermediate social groups -collectives and associations of civil society, social movements, etc., acquire a fundamental role in the social organization of Western societies and in the defense of the system of freedoms that constitute its essence. A process that takes place in the field of civil society, in which organizations independent from the political institutions and the State operate. The aspirations of justice and freedom of the individual need these ‘intermediate bodies’ to elaborate themselves, express themselves and channel themselves towards the political instances where the decisions that affect them are made, but also a high degree of pluralism of these groups.

So far, everything’s OK. However, in the case of the Catalan procés we should take the «hidden and dark face» of this theory very seriously into account, which is determined precisely by the strong failure of two of the key conditions that the theory itself formulates. These failures are the development of a wide process, which is not limited to the latest events or the current process of independence, and that has caused over several decades two trends that we cannot ignore. On the one hand, the progressive weakening in the expression of pluralism of the Catalan civil society. On the other hand, the material and symbolic impulse made by the Generalitat and all of its institutional, educational and media conglomerate of intermediate social groups related to nationalism and, in this last stage, the independence movement. How these types of processes have reached their maximum expression in the current situation, that is, a harmonious dependence of said groups on the political institutions of the Generalitat itself, and vice versa would be difficult to address here, but the facts show that this has already happened as, in a way, my fellow colleagues in the mentioned article also point out: «the border between institutional politics and civil society tends to fade away (serve as an example to that the current president of the Parlament, Carme Forcadell, former leader of the ANC).

At this point, we must bear in mind that the ‘intermediate bodies’ are also a ‘double-edged sword’. On the one hand, if the degree of pluralism and, therefore, the expression and visibility of the plurality of interests is diminished over time as a result of the promotion and empowerment of very specific intermediate groups by the political power to the detriment of others. On the other hand, in addition, if these same political institutions are made i) totally permeable to the intervention of these intermediate groups, while ii) these groups are made available to these institutions with the aim to achieve certain political goals through the mobilization, and iii) these groups come to overwhelm these institutions in the promotion of such objectives. In the Catalan case it seems difficult to deny that these three assumptions have materialized, and the current procés, as well as the conceptualization of a ‘referendum from below’, launched by my colleagues, would be the most palpable proof of this.

Under these circumstances, then, the darkest side of the theory that I bring here is materialized, since the dynamics that are generated are likely to cause the isolation and withdrawal of important sectors of the population that do not share such objectives, i.e., the erosion of democratic pluralism in said society. But also in times of despair, crisis or low legitimacy of the democratic order, they can lead to processes of unconditional adhesion to organizations, projects, leaders or symbols that exert an attraction on people that reinforce the feelings of community and belonging, since they offer, through its political objectives, a ‘new world’ which can be achieved through ways that allow to express their resentment and frustration. These processes also reach a greater scope and gravity if the educational institutions are used by the public powers as support in the promotion of these political objectives, or at least they do not guarantee a plural education throughout the processes of socialization of the young people. In this type of situation we would be talking about a very different hypothesis, which I only dare to pose as such, given that I have not had, nor will I have the opportunity to contrast empirically: national construction projects ‘from above’, which end up cutting the equality of those social groups that do not agree with these objectives.

The culmination of this process, the current procés, has counted, yes, on the main role of the citizenship that has connected with the project of the independence movement and the parties that support it, and to which the promoters of said movement would have granted said leading role. It could not have been otherwise in order to provide it with a greater social base. This is what the report #EnfoCATs seems to show. However, a key event, and directly related to the aforementioned theory has come to disrupt this logic: the awakening of citizenship that does not tune in with the postulates of the independence process, with which civic organizations such as SCC and networks of the Resistance, which for years warned, alone, of what had been happening in Catalonia, have managed to connect. This awakening is very good news as it is a first step to give greater visibility on the level of intermediate social relations and daily life to the pluralism of Catalan society, but also to encourage the creation of new truly independent intermediate social groups, a good sign of more and better democracy.

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