Recovering National Sovereignty

Below I have translated a piece by Javier Couso originally posted at the site Hablando República. The blog is dedicated to promoting a Third Spanish Republic. The post illustrates well, I think, how words such as ‘sovereignty’, and, indeed, ‘republic’ or ‘democracy’ exist as sites of struggle, where their meaning depends on the correlation of antagonistic forces.

I’ve left a couple of words untranslated. I don’t believe in looking for a crap translation of something which will not adequately convey the original meaning. It would be too..what’s the word.. recherché. The word ‘carcunda‘, is a sort or insult for reactionary conservatism dating back to the early 19th century. ‘Facherio‘ dates from more recent times, as a sort of slang word for fascist-related stuff. And sure while I’m at it I might as well leave patria untranslated too. You all know what patria o muerte means, right?

I don’t necessarily agree with everything set forth in the piece, but it does pose some interesting questions for left forces in Ireland, where the recovery of sovereignty (usually ‘economic’ sovereignty – national sovereignty is something, in the official argot, that we -or rather, ‘we’- ‘pool’ with other countries) presently functions as the justification and the alibi for dismantling social protections, driving enormous upward redistribution of wealth through bank bailouts, maintaining calculatedly high levels of unemployment, privatising public services and selling off state assets, and so on.

That is, the citizens must lose their freedoms so that the nation can recover its sovereignty (and of course, the non-citizens can go hang).

Isn’t part of this down to the fact that the dominant political forces in the Republic of Ireland, which are right-wing, have been able to appropriate and recast the idea of national sovereignty, which, as the writer points out, in most parts of the world are hallmarks of anti-colonial left forces?

The achievement consists, I think, not so much of convincing people of anything in particular, but rather, through sowing confusion, of depriving them of a political vocabulary and basic intellectual tools that previously operated in a context and a tradition of human emancipation and anti-colonial struggle.

Thus, all the things listed previously must be done because it is in the ‘national interest’ to do so and by citing the ‘our sovereignty’ in such instances here in Ireland, what is being called forth is a unifying glue of a history of national liberation and anti-colonial struggle, even when what is intended is the precise opposite: collective capitulation and subjugation to the whim of ‘the markets’.

 

Reappropriating: National Sovereignty
Sovereignty is a word that sounds pretty good. It speaks of independence. It speaks of freedom. It describes clearly the space where one can decide without impositions. Anyone would like to apply it to themselves. Everyone is proud of it and shows it off.
However everything changes, at least in our country, when we add the adjective ‘national’. Sovereignty and national. Here, in this very instant, having arrived at this point, it goes pear shaped. And it sounds bad. It speaks carcunda. It defines the space of facherío. It would go unloved. And everyone flees from it.
It is curious how this perception contrasts with the one held by the left in nearly any other part of the world. The idea of sovereignty and independence is a hallmark of a left which is anti-colonial to the marrow and that which visualises the selling out the patria to the empire by right-wing forces subordinate to the diktat of the dollar.
There are two facts which make this a peculiarity of the cultural and political spectrum of our country. First of all, the very creation of Spain as an amalgam state of historical kingdoms and secondly, the spurious appropriation of the concept of nation and patria on the part of the Francoist dictatorship for forty years.
On the national question, we need to see how the Catholic Kings give shape to the start of a nation, not with the cohesive element of a common language, imposed by blood and fire, but rather through the idea of a Catholic country, confronted with Muslims and heretics, imposed -with blood and fire this time for sure- with the instrument of political repression that was the Holy Inquisition.

Down through the years and with the arrival of the Internationals, the elements that were progressive, workerist, or simply of the left, went about embracing federalism, whether in the form of a federal or confederal Republic, as a way of rethinking this country around a common idea that would respect, with sovereign and freely entered pacts, the plurinational condition of Spain.

It is in this frame where the left of the Second Republic and with it certain nationalist parties, set off on the road for the approval of statutes for autonomy. A national question, hitherto assumed by a regionalism that mutates towards nationalism, dominated until the beginning of the twentieth century by the most reactionary right-wing forces. It is in this period that the concept of the Republican State tends, by assuming an autonomist condition, towards a federal aspiration, where the majority of nationalist forces wish to articulate themselves in good faith within a republican structure of free association.

Another one of the negative questions is, as we alluded to previously, the kidnapping of the concept of “national” on the part of Francoism, which revitalises a Spanish nationalism of imperial-Catholic aspirations, in opposition to a left that is respectful towards plurinational and radically secular identity.

It is not trivial that the term “Spanish State” was coined by the Franco government when its capital was Burgos or that this Spainist-religious symbiosis should emit terms such as “National Crusade”, “National Declaration”, the “Anti-Spain”..Forty years of darkness passed during which these slogans, in a kind of continuous Hit Parade, went about installing themselves in the dictatorial DNA and by extension, in an identification as synonymous with Spanish national and fascism.

No es baladí, que el termino «Estado Español» sea acuñado por el gobierno de Franco cuando su capital era Burgos o que de esa simbiosis españolista-religiosa, saliesen términos como: «Cruzada Nacional», «Bando Nacional», la «Anti-España», … Fueron cuarenta años de tinieblas donde estos lemas, a modo de Hit Parade continuo, se fueron instalando en el ADN dictatorial y por extensión, en una identificación como sinónimo de nacional español y fascismo.

As I see it, it is time to recover the concept of National Sovereignty as a hallmark of a left that calls itself transformative. There is no way of changing the social and economic system of exploitation unless we recover our sovereignty beforehand, that is, our capacity to decide for ourselves the model of society we want without the imposition of outside agents.

It is true that this sovereignty can not be merely national, but that it must always point at the subject of this sovereignty, that is, whoever applies it, which must necessarily be the people composed of free citizens. It is definitively the eternal aspiration of living without yokes, whether of outsiders, of class, or of finance.
In these times when Ibero-America is setting out the emancipatory path, we must work in the direction of a Constituent Process that can overcome a Transition that glossed over the forms without altering the distribution of power and that can bring us on to the construction of a different model where National and Citizen Sovereignty form the basis for a more just society.
It may be a long journey but we our course should be set in that direction and I declare myself a supporter of building a country that can transcend even the concept of Spain. A national project that is the result of a common desire freely chosen by the nations and the peoples of this peninsula, in the form of a Federal Iberian Republic which, through its population and sovereign direction, will be able to begin the voyage towards an authentic Social State.
Despite the difficulties the first step is to recover, for the culture of the left, the words they are robbing from us. This theft is, at root, the robbery of ideas and the denial of a future. In the same way as Rule of Law, Constitution or Nation State, they are ideas that we must make ours once again.
If we do not think them and put them together beforehand, we will never build them.
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