Sunday, 21 October 2012

Here comes the flood

I was working last week in a school in Sarriguren, near Pamplona, and when the bell went, it wasn't a bell at all. Instead, they played music over the school's PA system, and for morning break, the music that the played was Singin' In The Rain.

I am not singing in the rain, because it is seeping through the wall. We have had torrential rain for most of the past twenty-four hours or so, which has closed roads, made rivers to overflow, caused a village just south of Huesca to be evacuated and swept away half a house in a village just north of Jaca. Meanwhile, in our village, the water is sweeping off the church terrace, onto the plaza below and, somehow, through our wall and into the kitchen. Today we have to drive all the way to Ciudad Rodrigo. We hope not to come back to a swimming pool in the kitchen.

While we are driving practically to the Portuguese border, there are elections today in the Spanish province to the north of Portugal, Galicia. There are also elections in the Basque Country, and strictly speaking the Basque elections are the more interesting of the two, especially where "more interesting" is a synonym for "less likely to go well for the Partido Popular".

Galicia, though, interests me more. I've never been there, though I want to, and I hope to go next summer, if enough money can be spared from saving-against-probable-unemployment (or, for that matter, a drainage ditch) to spare for a few days' break. As it is, I've seen much more of the road to Galicia than of Galica itself.

It is on the other side of Spain from me, and I do not go there for work, since the educational project with which I work doesn't operate in Galicia. Nor does it in País Vasco, come to that, but that region is closer to Huesca, and one also passes through it on the way to Cantabria and Asturias. But one only passes through Galicia on the way to the sea.

It appeals to me. Perhaps it is the idea of Galicia that appeals to me. Spain that is not like Spain as people think of it. The Atlantic rather than the Mediterranean. Wind and rain instead of sun.

It's the furthest point west in Spain (in peninsular Spain, at any rate) and it has a lot of rain. It also has a high emigration rate and normally votes for the right, a description which would remind a lot of people of Ireland.

Ireland, a friend recently said to me, has the most rightwing politics in Europe. I offered him Hungary and we bargained down to Western Europe instead, but that's still a large field for Ireland to be at the head of. Galicia may not even be the most rightwing region in Spain - Valencia, Murcia, Cantabria and the Balearics might all plausibly compete for that award - and it has occasionally elected PSOE leaders, but it is a question worth asking, why one of the poorer regions of Spain, on Spain's very edge, should vote for the Right (a Right which has been - and still mostly is - virulently centralist and anti-regionalist) and should continue doing so even in the teeth of austerity and recession under a government of the Right.

Maybe a comparison with Ireland is instructive, since that country, despite being, for most of its history, among the poorest in Western Europe, also votes for the Right and shows few signs of changing its mind now, despite experiencing an austerity programme that has been about as drastic and as deliberately targetted at the poorer sections of society as it could possibly have been.

When I was a young leftist reading, or attending meetings, about Ireland and its politics, we heard a lot about James Connolly and the carnival of reaction that he predicted would be the result of Partition. No doubt this is true, and there's no reason to think it will be any different if Spain undergoes a partition or two, and emerges as two or more states whose politics will consist of blaming one another for their problems. Which is the normal outcome of partition, and among the reasons why the Catalonian independence movement is such a bad idea.

But - among a host of other reasons - there is also emigration. Ireland, except for a short period in the recent past - it is a shock to realise how recent, just as it is a shock to realise how recently Spain had a booming economy and the soundest finances in the EU - has been a nation of emigrants. Galicia is a region of emigrants. Its young people leave in large numbers as soon as their education is completed. As is the case with Ireland.

Now it wouldn't be quite accurate to say that the young, and particularly the educated young, were the sole foundation of protest movements, nor of political movements of the left. Not in the Spain of today, nor in the Spain of the past, nor of anywhere. But it would be accurate to say that they are fundamental to movements of protest. I did most of my protesting between the ages of sixteen and twenty-one, and if I felt younger than the crowd when I began, I didn't for long. Without the young, these movements would be smaller. They would be weaker. They might never happen in the first place.

Which makes a difference - perhaps a huge one - to the politics of the places where they happen. Protests say - there is an alternative. The absence of protest says there is not. Or it says that there is an alternative, which is emigration.

What happens if, as we can probably expect, the effect of crisis and austerity is to drive as many young Spaniards out of their countryas can find somewhere to go? So that, in a few years' time - perhaps not very many - the experience of Ireland, or the experience of Galicia, or for that matter the experience of Spain itself until a generation or so past, is repeated across the country, and instead of protesting against their government and their financial institutions in the streets, they are watching from a distance, working or looking for work abroad? What happens to a country's politics when that happens?

I suspect that, as now, most of the young Rightists will still go back home, where their privileges are and where their ambitions will be looked after. But the young Leftists will mostly be abroad.

Poor countries - including those which have deliberately been made poor - have high emigration rates. High emigration rates keep poor most of those who remain. Because those who are most likely to cry "enough" have gone elsewhere. Leaving the political scene dominated by the corrupt classes and their mouthpieces.

Hence - to some degree, whatever other elements there may have been - Ireland's truncated political culture. And Galicia's. And, I fear, the political culture of a smashed-up and partitioned Spain, in a few years' time.

It might not go that way. It might not even go that way in Galicia, where, according to El Plural, the PP may not, quite, win an absolute majority. But that is clutching at straws. Though a drowning man proverbially will clutch at a straw, and Spain today is a drowning man.
The ordinary English worker hates the Irish worker as a competitor who brings down his wages and standard of living. He also feels national and religious antipathies for him; it is rather the same attitude that the poor whites of the Southern states of North America had for the Negro slaves. This antagonism between the two groups of proletarians within England itself is artificially kept in being and fostered by the bourgeoisie, who know well that this split is the real secret of preserving their own power.
Thus wrote Marx, early in 1870. But he might have put it the other way around, and said the "real secret" lay not in the country which received the emigrants, but in the one which they had left. And that the real secret wasn't so much that "antagonism", real though it was. It was the boat to New York or Liverpool.

Or, in Galicia, the boat to South America. Or today, the airport. The secret of preserving power has the name of Ryanair.

They will be flooding out, tomorrow. But today, the rain is seeping through the walls. Everywhere, the rain is seeping through the walls.

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