[lg policy] Catalan language policy: Marxist, Stalinist, Francoist or fascist?

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Thu Jan 28 15:30:16 UTC 2010

Catalan language policy: Marxist, Stalinist, Francoist or fascist?

The precedents for, and some possible implications of, the
Catalanisation of Barcelona's cinemas. Plus some crowd-pleasing video
of the Quebec language police in action. (Allez! Allez! Allez! And the
hell with the economy!) All in somewhat fevered response to an article
by Martin Dahms in the Tages-Anzeiger.

Trevor @ Wednesday January 27th 2010 16:40

Last night I had a quick beer with someone who wonks policy for the
Catalan governing coalition. He was very upset about a piece published
a couple of days ago in the Tages-Anzeiger, a left-leaning,
Zurich-based, mass-circulation daily, by a respected German foreign
correspondent called Martin Dahms. Entitled “In Barcelona Hollywood
has to speak Catalan,” the article is a well-researched and objective
look at Catalan government plans to force cinemas to show half of
films in Catalan. These plans have caused the cinema industry
association, which controls some 80% of seats in the region, to call a
strike next Monday. They fear that frustrating the overwhelming market
preference for Spanish showings (to which, given that everyone speaks
Spanish, you can take all your friends) will inevitably accentuate the
already rapid drift, particularly among the young, away from public
cinema (and video clubs) to internet downloads. And even the Chinese
haven’t completely figured out how to regulate or impose quotas on

Mr Wonk’s main beef was about Mr Dahms’ comparison of the Catalan
government’s gradualist strategy to banish Spanish from public life
with the Franco government’s summarily implemented, anti-Catalan
version of this policy in 1939. “How dare he! There is a world of
difference between us and them!” he cried, echoing Christian
objections to analysis linking human beings with other primates. Apart
from all the usual “didn’t never have no niggers/faggots/Spanish here
before” paleocrap essential to any progressive discourse in Barcelona,
Mr Wonk also made the interesting claim that Catalan linguistic
aggression is essentially Marxist, designed to create a common
language and thus achieve equality of opportunity for all.

Neglecting the fact that we already have a common
language–Spanish–you’ve got to be pretty stupid or ignorant to believe
that The Beard’s works sanction cultural interventionism, whether
we’re talking about ironing out dialectal variation and linguistic
diversity or any other field. As any Eastern European child over the
age of 50 can tell you, Marx actually says that culture is
superstructural to the economy. So the only strategy open to a
conventional Marxist who wants to make Catalan the common language in
Catalonia is to leap into a time machine, rip back to the 14th
century, close the borders, thwack down the populace, and try to make
anti-revolutionary autarky work … for ever. Which, for all I know, may
indeed what President Montilla has in store for us.

However, at this point the barman suggested that a far better
left-wing model for the restriction of individual language rights is
provided by Stalin. Stalin knew Marx rather better than my friend and
realised that if Marx had got it right then the language of the Tsars
should have disappeared automatically as a superstructural consequence
of the economic changes wrought by the October Revolution; there was
no theoretical basis to justify the (violent) Russification of the
Soviet Union. He got round this by saying–obviously not in so many
words—that Marx was wrong and the Nazis were right: that language is
not superstructure but is by some ingenious and unspecified means
generated by the entire course of a society’s history, reflecting not
needs based in time or class but the Volksgeist.

Like Stalin’s massive programme of cultural expansionism, the Catalan
government’s willingness to pay for Catalan education, exhibitions,
street signs etc in areas of France and Italy to which it has cultural
and thence territorial claims, as well as hegemonist pressures on
Valencia and the Balearics, show that its ambitions are imperialist.
In that sense it may be closer to Stalinism than to the Francoist
programme of Hispanicisation in the 1940s, which reasserted (by
totalitarian means) public dominance of the national language in
territories which had been formally Spanish for some 500 years and
where Spanish had been the language of the educated class and the
administration for respectively some 400 and 200 years.

In another sense, however, Catalan nationalists would say
Catalanisation is merely reasserting (by totalitarian means, of
course) the public use of Catalan in territories which in the late
Middle Ages were Aragonese and where Catalan and other southern French
dialects were at the time the language of the educated class and,
subordinated to Latin, of the administration. Which is rather
complicated, but at least indicates that they accept the
Catalanism/Francoism parallel.

And that's all so Ulster isn't it! For novices, here's a helpful
summary of provincial life by Manuel Estimulo:

As I am understand it, the place is divided up into two part, one
ruled over by a militaristic authoritarian misogynistic reactionary
Protestant fascism, which want to take everyone back to the 17th
century, and the other part is rule over by a militaristic
authoritarian misogynistic progressive Catholic fascism, which want to
take everyone back to the 1920s. And even though they seem to have
everything in common with one another, the main sticking plaster is
they cannot agree over which football team to support. It all very
much seem like a stork in a teacup!


I find neither Francoism nor Stalinism to be an entirely satisfactory
parallel, because neither is afflicted by the all-devouring
inferiority complex which drives mandatory Catalanisation: the notion
that if people are not forced to use the language, it will die, and
that this is for some reason of transcendent importance.

A few years ago following a rather wild bet I denounced myself to the
language police for using English preferentially in (public) business
communications, and when they failed to respond an Italian friend
commented that the narrow focus of their paranoia–a rival Romance
dialect–was reminiscent of the persecution of French in Italy in the
late 19th and early 20th centuries, reaching its peak under Mussolini.

French was a more vigorous language, with far greater intellectual,
artistic and industrial reach, and so strenuous efforts were made to
deny French-speaking families education in French and other public
opportunities to use it, and to cleanse Italian of all trace of French
loanwords. (There’s a fascinating piece here on the Aosta Valley, the
persecution of French by Italian nationalists, and the French-language
anti-fascist resistance.)

Mussolini was inverted in 1945 but his world was not, and full
Italianisation of French-speaking areas was achieved in the post-war
period by the pervasive influence of Italian mass media. Yet while
Catalonia has succeeded in denying access to Spanish-language
education, and while heavy fines are used to ensure that businesses
promote themselves according to the ethnic fantasies of civil servants
rather than according to their perception of customer need and their
desire to maximise profits, it’s difficult to see in the internet age
how putting cinemas out of business will contribute either to getting
people to speak Catalan or to rescuing the region’s struggling

Whether or not you agree with me that this is closer to
(Mediterranean) littoral than to continental totalitarianism, it’s
clear that the direct inspiration for Catalan ethnic bulldozering
comes mainly from Quebec. Stuff that should concern serious people:
despite considerable natural potential, Quebec has succeeded in
driving away much of its original business class, it has struggled to
maintain foreign investment, it has a poor record on wealth creation
compared with other provinces, and, although it effectively runs its
own immigration policy, immigrants there are spectacularly less
successful than in neighbouring Ontario, which has no such powers or
ethnic paranoias. And so on.

Stuff that may amuse less serious people: an old favourite, Inspector
Clouseau of the Quebec language police at work:


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