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Xavier Diez: “as catalans we don’t know how to relate to power, we just don’t respect it”

Xavier Diez, historian, professor at Ramon Llull University and author, among others, of L’ anarquisme, fet differential català, has begun his conference –within AureaSocial’s Fem-lo Comú cycle dedicated to historical memory– with an anecdote by his aunt, who explained how during Spain’s civil war (1936-1939), theaters in and around Barcelona reached a point in which ushers were paid the same as actors, until the great actor Enric Borràs said, if we must make the same, let them do the acting. Diez always considered this to be no more than an urban legend.

After training and working as a teacher he found himself studying history, especially contemporary, but could find no reference to “these anarchists”, when they could have just noticed there were 700,000 CNT members by the 1930s.

Oddly enough he found no reference to them in university texts; if anything, following Hobsbawm recommended readings, they were refered to as “primitive rebels”, “uncontrolled” or “bad, violent people”. We’re talking about 1980s’ cream of Barcelona’s ‘liberal’ elites. This didn’t make sense enough for Diez. He started inquiring, and ended up writing a doctoral thesis on anarchism; during 1990s there were very few studies out. For example, while writing his first book –about the sexual narrative in anarchism– he found out Europe’s first free-abortion law was passed in Catalonia. Not only by Federica Montseny, but by young doctor Felix Marti-Ibanez.

One day Francisco Fuguet asked him for an article about the collectivization of the theater and he discovered that what his aunt had told him was true.


CNT, which had the Sindicato Único de Espectáculos Públicos (formed by very young people, mostly technical staff) took control of theaters with the obsession to put an end to current actor’s insecurity and unemployment situation and took several steps: first, abolishment of corporate profit, so the owner is treated as any other worker; heads disappear: the worst part of the 1936 revolution, for those who hid it, is that it was possible to build a society without bosses or leaders. They also did something that continued operating even after the war: the double session at 6 pm and 8 pm, to raise more money, on the one hand, and so that factory workers could also enjoy theater, while attending their full work schedules. Moreover, they used a popularity-based program while shunning experimentation; authors were paid 10% of revenue; specialization of theaters was also encouraged: some for drama, others for comedy, musical, etc. A pension system was created, a theater school was planned, etc.

On top of that, ticket prices were halved and unified, all seats cost the same; they did the same for trains by getting rid of classes. In the 1930s this horrified Barcelona’s middle class, as manual workers (“Murcian”, they called them) started looking at them over their shoulder and many small to mid traders became communists, “of the socialist PSUC” they said, “we will do a revolution, but an tidy one”.

Xavier Diez, regarding the controversial thesis of his book L’anarchism, fet differential català, says he intended to tease people. For him, if Catalans were dogs they would be petenera, with no race or pedigree. 40% of the Catalan population, for example, is of Occitan origin and only 10% have both Catalan surnames. So when he was studying History, unsatisfied with the academic training he received, he endeavored to find out more. At age 20 he read News from Catalonia (1954, reworked in 1956), in which historian Jaume Vicens-Vives speaks about the values ​​inherent to the Catalan people: seny (sanity), effort, hard work, lack of relationship to power. Diez re-read the book years later and discovered that much of what it says about Catalans is false. “A quick glance at the historical sources and you begin to know that Catalans are very violent people, prone to take out a flint or dagger, and they treat noblemen as equals…” But that was already being written in the 17th century. However, this prejudice about discipline and order has slipped in. The stereotype that we are boring, for example, or always judge by the outer shell, has spread around normally.

Vicens Vives was part of a conspiracy group within or on the edge of Franco’s regime that worked to turn Spain around into a normalization of capitalism. Indeed, with Opus Dei’s values. But Vicens was a deeply intelligent man and in his book (which is not a history book but a political project) he speaks of the negative aspects of Catalans, such as their fondness for revolutions. It starts with las remensas, a peasant revolt that, for the first time in Europe, succeeds: they self-organize in an exemplary way, make diplomatic alliances with the counts, up until the revolt of 1640, when Catalans realize the monarchy of Felipe IV is of no advantage to them so they organize as a republic, which doesn’t work out so they crown Luis XIII. However, Castillian troops rush in from the south with blood and fire… Vicens Vives even lives the civil war: when he is 26, he experiences the revolution in Barcelona, ​​and is horrified because he sees how his class (middle-high) is dispensable, how the world can function without their class and without them. Hence the reason of his statements about Catalonia, his talk of judgment, order, discipline, etc.

However, Vicens Vives tries to investigate why this tendency to confrontation. And he asks one of his former students, Casimir Martí, to do it. This religious man and former rector at Bellvitge still lives, and he directs his thesis on anarchism in Barcelona. Martin argues that anarchism arises, first of all, by the incompetence of the Catalan ruling classes. But there are other factors. For example, historian and archaeologist Peter Bosch-Gimpera argued that traditionally by the Mediterranean coast there has been more presence from Iberians, i.e. more egalitarian societies, confederate towns, while the inland peninsula was inhabited by Celtiberians, with more authoritarian, expansionist societies.

Catalonia has been under great pressure from the Spanish Empire and the French Empire, so distrust and anxiety are part of the Catalan character. There is a caganer (a person who takes a dump near God) paradigm. Obviously, we Catalans don’t know how to relate to power, we just don’t respect it. We therefore have a certain tendency to assume certain behaviors: some things can be done outside of institutions. As Carlos Muñoz-Espinalt said, “the cause of Catalans’ discomfort and despite must be sought in the lack of normality produced by oppression” (in the article “Science and lyricism”, reproduced by Enric Borràs in a blog post about Jaume Vicens-Vives).

Diaz closed the event with another anecdote. He confessed he chose to research anarchism because of how little was known and the bad reputation it had. In the Ateneo Enciclopédico Popular he saw that for each Catalan student or scholar there were four foreigners. In fact, the topic of revolution has been cut out, erased from history, because the country is controlled by enough of these Vicens Vives, who are basically horrified to see how society can function without leaders. And with no bosses, we could obviously allocate resources in a better way.

During the debate, Xavier Diez said there isn’t one single anarchism, but many and varied projects, “we can’t picture it as a closed box”.

As for the popular aspiration for independence, the author recalled that a lot of anarchist theory drinks from Pi i Margall, who speaks of federalism, that is, citizens who organize and manage themselves locally, so that can federate freely with whomever they want. Ie first comes sovereignty as free citizens. And if forced to choose between a Spanish and a Catalan state, he chooses a Catalan libertarian state, taking into account, however, that institutions are useful as long as they can benefit people.

From the time of the revolution he recommended, as of historical interest, a series of movies such as Aurora de Esperanza, Nosotros somos así or the documentary Barcelona trabaja para el frente. Anyway, web-browsing for “anarchist cinema” should give us some valuable documentation.

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