In the coming weeks the United Kingdom is going to slip chaotically into the deepest political and social crisis it has experienced since the outbreak of the Second World War. The very existence of the British state, given the conditions of an “Apocalypse scenario” Brexit crash out, will be on the line. Civil disorder caused by food shortages and lack of essential medicines will bring matters to a head in England, Scotland, Wales, and those parts of Ireland still under British occupation.
Today there are just 43 days left until the United Kingdom leaves the European Union, and most likely without a deal. Quite frankly, it has become too tiring, too mentally exhausting to repeat again the catalogue of woes such a no-deal Brexit will bring. But many people will be forced to leave their homes and their communities, families will be divided, food and medicines will be rationed. These are simply the facts of a no-deal scenario, and still there is no proper organised resistance in the United Kingdom to what the British government is about to do.
As this not unlikely scenario plays out Scotland will find itself in much the same position that Catalonia now finds itself – having to break British law or hold a referendum without British consent in order to decide on its own future. We may imagine that the deployment of the police against the independence movement is impossible here, but when it comes to state politics and the political and economic necessities of suzerain states anything is possible. Over the past three centuries the British state has consistently used force against its own subjects to keep them in line.
Our problem with such violent political policing is not the violence per se. We are used to violence. Western civilisation was built on violence, and is perhaps the greatest purveyor and consumer of warfare and state sponsored violence in the history of the human race. Rather, our problem with this sacrilege is that it shatters our illusions pertaining to the nature and power of democracy. It reminds us that democracy is a pacifier; a ritual that sedates people with the tranquiliser of the mere impression of control while the state qua the ruling establishment is free to get on with the business of power.
Under such conditions the Spanish government had hoped Barcelona would capitulate. This has not happened. Carles Puigdemont, while acknowledging that due to Spanish countermeasures many may not have the chance to vote, has stated emphatically that the vote will happen on Sunday. He has said he is willing to face arrest and imprisonment to ensure this, and – in the event of a Yes vote – he or a delegated representative will declare independence before Wednesday 4 October.
With today’s arrests and the furtherance of the Spanish programme of the seizure of finances and communications Catalan autonomy has been effectively suspended, forcing a serious and volatile constitutional crisis. These are the conditions that have led to open revolt and violence in many part of the world before, and nothing – other than the remarkable sense of calm thus far – makes Catalunya any different.
Democracy – and it is difficult to accept that in 2017 we still find ourselves having to explain this – is all about the will of the people over the ambitions of those in and behind government. The Partido Popular, the ruling party in Madrid, is a minority government that now no longer has the support of Congress for the actions it is carrying out against Catalunya. In reality what we have is a western government using military-style measures with a military police force against an apparently “illegal” act of democracy without the consent of its own parliament.
Marx’s razor-sharp observation on the state as a mutual help society for the powerful decision-makers is echoed beautifully in the description of the Town Council in The Brigand’s Cave chapter of Tressell’s The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists.