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Galicia: Anova's bruising congress a ‘collective apprenticeship’

By Dick Nichols

July 7, 2013 – Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- The mainstream media were taken aback: why was the first congress of the Galician left nationalist organisation Anova — the key component along with the United Left (EU in Galicia, IU nationally) in Galicia of the hugely successful Galician Left Alternative (AGE) — so heated and acrimonious, at times reaching the point of “shambles” (the term of the chairperson)?

How come the 16-month-old Anova — vital to AGE winning 14% of the vote in the October 2012 Galician regional elections and now at the point of overtaking the Galician affiliate of the social-democratic Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) in the polls — was having a congress marked by dissent from the rulings of the presiding committee, fierce lobbying of delegates and in-the-corridors distribution of four how-to-vote cards for different tickets for the national coordinating committee?

It was left to Xosé Manuel Beiras, historic leader of Galician left nationalism and Anova’s unanimously re-elected spokesperson, to help the media — and some shell-shocked delegates — grasp what had happened in the Congress Centre of Santiago de Compostela, capital of Galicia, on June 8-9, 2013.

“What this congress in all its dialectical confrontations is showing is that here there’s no apparatus running things, pre-cooking the results.” He added, “I start from the basis that the mistakes made are collective, and that it is practice that will show if they are mistakes or not. Our mistakes are not those of notables, of people who try to fix things up from inside an apparatus.”

Beiras also stressed the “heterogeneity” of Anova’s membership and the debate as “a symptom of the process of convergence in which political cultures coming from the previous system clash with those coming from outside the political organisations”.

“Anova is a school in which a new political culture is being rehearsed, a process of collective apprenticeship. There is no process of training and education that can be completed in a few months.”

In a later interview in La Voz de Galicia Beiras specified: “What you have is a clash of styles of activism between the old forms forged in the underground struggle against Francoism and the new culture of the social movements. And each side has its own tics, its own bad habits, the new people too.”

For the veteran nationalist leader the stormy style of Anova’s congress debate would be the order of the day in any new organisation sincerely trying to reconnect with a society sick to death of traditional parties and politicians. In his closing address Beiras said: “If we really want to make citizens in revolt the motor force of change, convulsive meetings are unavoidable.”

Martiño Noriega, mayor of Teo and best known Anova figure after Beiras, described it as “expressing dynamics that are out there in society. The assembly is tumultuous because the people are demanding a lot of us and we too are demanding a lot of each other.”

Wellsprings of Anova

Anova, whose full name is Anova — Irmandade Nacionalista (Anova — Nationalist Brotherhood/Sisterhood), means “renew” and “new” in the Galician language. The name Anova-Irmandade Nacionalista thus contains a play on words and can be understood as “new nationalist brother/sisterhood” or “renew nationalist brother/sisterhood”. The irmandades have a long tradition in Galicia, being originally the cells for organising the peasant revolts of the 15th century: in the early 20th century the term was used for associations defending the Galician language (Irmandades da Fala).

The first paragraph of the draft political resolution stated how the organisation had reached its first congress:

Anova is the fruit of an intense process of creation from below of a political organisation of a new type. The very process of setting up Nationalist Assemblies last spring, which came together to celebrate a founding congress of this assembly–based organisation — horizontal, open to the existing pluralism in left nationalism and at the service of the social majority — is testimony to the political will and activist energy of the hundreds of people who participated in it.

The reasons why many different groupings and individuals ended up together in an organisation committed to promoting “organised citizen revolt” and “radical democracy external and internal” lie in the combination of three intertwined developments specific to Galicia.

They are the crisis of left nationalism, whose main expression from 1985 to 2012 was the Galician Nationalist Bloc (BNG); the success of AGE as an anti-austerity electoral coalition based also on recognising a specific Galician right to self-determination; and the form of creation of Anova itself, emerging from the decisions of local assemblies without “any guiding precooked meal” (Beiras) — in the style of the 15M (indignado) movement.

Without this assembly-based approach, which replaces traditional styles of building left organisations and has much in common with the Catalan left-nationalist Popular Unity Candidacies (CUP), many activists of the indignado generation would not have participated in Anova.

The result was that very different political families are having to work out how to live together in a “party-movement” that it is probably more varied than any other radical force in the Spanish state.

They include: “old” left nationalists (along with their own sub-groupings, continuing debates over the nature and tasks of nationalism in Galicia, and ties going back to the BNG); social and trade union movement activists drawn to Anova’s intransigent defence of worker rights and the welfare state (such as trade unionists active in the nationalist Galician Interunion Confederation, CIG); environmentalists and feminists; indignados; and many “ordinary” people, maybe not all that active, but staunch supporters of Beiras, who is seen by many as the people’s champion in parliamentary wars against the “putrescent” (Beiras) People’s Party (PP) government of Galicia.

Anova and AGE

The form of development of Anova as an assembly-based organisation was already attracting many people in the lead-up to its founding congress in July 2012. With the ongoing success of AGE this trend only increased.

This new layer of mainly young activists who were inspired to participate in the AGE election campaign could not join AGE because it is an electoral coalition between parties and (so far) has no individual membership or political life outside its parliamentary caucus.

The question for the activists inspired by AGE was therefore which affiliate to join. Many would not have wanted to join the United Left, rightly or wrongly identified with “old”, “Spanish” politics. As a result, provided that they weren’t attracted to the other smaller AGE affiliates Equo and Galician Ecosocialist Space (EEG), they had one alternative — Anova.

At the congress one result of this continuing new influx was that some of the decisions of the July 2012 founding congress were revisited. In Beiras’s words: “We were having a normal congress but it turned into a second founding congress because the founding texts were called into question.”

Particularly galling for some delegates was the fact that the simple majorities they won on a majority of constitutional questions were inadequate because of the stipulation of the founding congress, repeated in the standing orders for this congress, that two-thirds majorities were needed to change the constitution.

With any financial member of Anova granted voice and vote at the congress, sharp clashes — already a feature of the three-month local pre-congress discussion — were unavoidable around three main issues: the precise “genetic code” of Anova; alliance policy (electorally and more broadly); and how to elect Anova’s national coordinating body.

At the same time, the results of votes over these and other issues varied widely, showing that, despite the interactions among the definite trends present, many delegates were unaligned and deciding their vote issue by issue.

The underlying difference generating all debates was over how exactly to conceive of Anova. Everyone could agree with Beiras’s formula that Anova was “Galician left nationalism’s new strategic project in this new political cycle” but within that concept discussion ranged between two implicit poles:

1. Was Anova primarily to be the form of revival of Galician left nationalism, with its energies directed mainly towards reuniting that family by achieving hegemony over the weakened BNG and the centrist Compromise for Galicia (CxG)? For those tending to this position the AGE experience and the alliance with the United Left was to be seen as an exception.

2. Or was Anova the driving organisation of the new anti-austerity politics of AGE, definitely championing Galicia’s national rights but most focussed on building majorities against the brutal neoliberalism of the national PP government of Mariano Rajoy and the Galician regional administration of premier Alberto Núñez Feijóo?

This line of differentiation didn’t simply run between the ex-BNGers and the younger generation of activists. The Brotherhood Assembly (EI), the main current within Anova that started life in 2007 as a reform tendency within the BNG, had supporters leaning in either direction.

For example, the Teo assembly of Anova, influenced by Martiño Noriega, put forward an amendment to the entire draft political resolution that sought to define the exact sense in which Anova was nationalist. It included the following paragraphs around which the drafting commission had been unable to reach consensus. As much as an amendment this text was a polemic against those for whom reunification of nationalists was the primary goal.

“The recognition of the Galician people as a political subject enjoying full rights, including, obviously, the unrestricted right to decide its future, is the principle distinguishing mark of our nationalism. That’s the only frontier we are not prepared to cross. It would be absurd today to conceive of nationalism as a closed-off reserve, as an ideology that provides an unvarying world-view, as a faith to profess, as a church in which someone decides who can belong and who deserves excommunication…

“The work that the Galician nationalism organised around Anova has ahead of it is as complex as it is interesting: to spread the idea that the best option for improving our conditions of life passes through becoming protagonists and taking responsibility for our own affairs. In this sense sovereignty, understood as the decision-making capacity of the Galician People operating as a political actor, is a means, not an end in itself.”

“In order for sovereignty to be something more than a fetish-word it is necessary to win hegemony, and that can only be done by a collective political subject that represents the abused social majority. Achieving that goal can’t require that all individuals belong to the political culture of the nationalist tradition.”

The Anova Teo position concluded by stressing:

“the need for Anova and AGE to assume the leadership required of them at every step in the necessary processes of accumulation of forces, unity and expansion of alliances. Let neither Anova nor AGE fall into the error of accepting or taking on the (interested) agenda outlined by other organisations.

“The times in which we have to live, dark like few others, demand that our preferred alliances seek out space on the left. The unity of nationalism, which after the elections became a catch-cry aimed at breaking the unity of AGE, should only be a step forward in this process of accumulating forces on the left. It can never be an end in itself.”

Some background

Behind this debate stood realities of the condition of Galician nationalism that contrast with those of nationalism in the Basque Country (Euskadi) and Catalonia.

Galicia never produced its own specifically Galician bourgeoisie. Its industries and finance system were funded (and plundered) from elsewhere in the Spanish state, as analysed by Beiras in his 1972 work The Economic Backwardness of Galicia. While today some Galician super rich are prominent in business and finance, they operate as Spanish capitalists.

As a result, a Galician equivalent of the conservative nationalism of the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) or Catalan Convergence and Union (CiU), never developed. Conservative nationalist forces were either small and/or absorbed into the Galician branch of the People’s Party, run for years by ex-Franco minister Manuel Fraga, who was careful to cultivate “Gallicianist” rhetoric and cultural imagery.

Since the end of the Franco dictatorship right-wing, post-Francoist forces have dominated the Galician parliament and government, with the exception of the years 2005-2009, when the government was a coalition between the Party of Socialists of Galicia (PSG, the Galician affiliate of the Spanish Socialist Workers Party) and the BNG.

Galician national sentiment has therefore always been weaker — but also more plebeian and progressive — than in Euskadi and Catalonia, where total support for right- and left-nationalist parties has at times passed 50%. In Galicia the highest vote ever achieved by the BNG — from 1985 to 2009 the near-monopoly voice of nationalism — was 25.1% (in 1997). This reflected the highest score of “Gallicianism” registered over the past 30 years: in 1997 39% described themselves to opinion polls as “Galician” or “more Galician than Spanish”.

However, the most marked contrast between Galician nationalism and its Basque and Catalan counterparts has emerged in the last 10 years, especially in the last five years of economic crisis. The impact in Catalonia has been to help send independence sentiment over 50%, and to strengthen it in Euskadi.

In Galicia, the effect has been the opposite, as if nationalist sentiment were a luxury item, affordable only in the good times. National sentiment has declined to the point that only 19% of the population describe themselves as “Galician” or “more Galician than Spanish”. Over the years of the crisis, the percentage of Galicians believing that the region needs more autonomy from the Spanish state has fallen (from 46% in 2007 to 21% today) while those supporting less powers for Galicia has risen (from 3% in 2005 to 26% today). Support for the right to independence, never higher than 8% (1994), has fallen to 3%.

The end result is that the balance of forces between nationalism and Spanish centralism is weakest in Galicia. This creates a permanent pressure that puts Galician nationalism on the defensive and makes “Hispanicism” the worst crime of which political rivals in the nationalist camp can be accused.

Opening debate

Before confronting the discussion of its basic political character the Anova congress had first to work out how to elect its 75-strong national coordinating committee from the 171 nominations received. Differences over method produced an acrimonious first session.

The proposal in the draft standing orders was for the coordinating committee to be elected on the basis of the relative support received by competing lists (slates), a system that would have helped ensure representation to the most organised currents within the new organisation. While supported by Brotherhood Assembly (EI) leaders the proposal sparked strong rejection from the non-aligned delegates, from some sections of EI and from members of organisations like the Galician Popular Front (FPG) and the Rank-and-File Movement (MPB).

(While members of these and other currents participate in Anova on an individual basis — a rejection of the BNG’s front structure — “old” patriotisms were still alive and on show at the congress.)

The delegates voted to reject the proposed list system of election in favour of voting for individual members of the coordinating committee.

But how? Four options next emerged: to vote for up to the full 75 positions; to vote for up to 36 positions (48% of the total, regarded as a guarantee against one group gaining a majority); to vote for up to 36 positions but with the final result adjusted to ensure gender equality and no absolute majority for any single group; and for the coordinating committee to be elected not by congress but through local Anova assemblies.

A sign of the high degree of difference present was that in the initial count these options respectively won the following votes: 185, 166, 202 and 146. The position finally adopted, in favour of a vote of up to 36 positions with the result corrected for gender equality and to avoid group domination, was carried 201 to 146, with 24 abstentions.

The most heated moment came next, when the presiding committee, after a 10-minute huddle, decided that the decision represented a constitutional change and would hence require a two-thirds majority. However, when their ruling was put to the incensed congress it was voted down.

The congress also voted that the position of national spokesperson would be, this time only, elected directly by congress, and not from the coordinating committee. In a later speech, Beiras, the one candidate, made clear his disagreement with this decision (“the spokesperson should be part of the collective elected leadership.”)

Which party-movement?

This opening session, which the local conservative media reported under headlines like “Anova launches congress with bitter internal clash”, exposed the fact that many differing expectations lay beneath the shared concept of “new, horizontal, party-movement”.

In the discussion of the 49 amendments to the organisational resolution and statutes that had been passed on from earlier workshop sessions to the plenary, and indicative moment was the vote on an amendment that would have made local assemblies responsible for candidate pre-selections for all levels of government. It carried by simple majority, but failed to get the two-thirds majority needed to change the statutes, provoking boos and catcalling. A lot of other amendments had the same fate.

Nonetheless, where enough unaffiliated delegates could be persuaded of their sense, a number of constitutional amendments were carried. For example, local assemblies will now be able to amalgamate at the regional level, and also establish their own working groups at levels below that of local council areas.

Anova will now also aim to implant itself in all Galician-speaking regions (as well as in the Galician diaspora), meaning that it may develop a presence in Castilla-Leon and Asturias, the autonomous communities (states) bordering on Galicia.

On the sensitive issue of double membership — strongly opposed by some younger delegates as against the need to build up identification with Anova — the congress voted to allow it to continue, on the understanding that single membership will only become feasible as the organisation matures and acquires “a common language and practice”.

The sign of what had been a difficult debate was that the organisational document as amended was adopted by 56.1% to 36.8%, with 7.2% abstaining and the remainder not voting.

Which alliance policy?

The discussion on the political resolution, where 55 amendments had been forwarded from the workshops, focussed on alliance policy. It was tense to the point that Beiras, who had said nothing in the congress to date, felt he had to intervene in support of a compromise proposal.

The original draft political resolution explained the broad front that Anova proposes like this:

“Anova considers that the broad front proposal must be maintained for other areas of political action [besides the Galician parliament] with the same character as set down [in the founding congress] last July: a call to unity in action around programmatic proposals, aimed at nationalism and the left, with a non-exclusionary character. It is desirable that the concrete form of unity in action in various spheres expand the range of collaborators, but it may also be the case that alliances with different actors are worked out for different spheres.”

In the pre-congress discussion in the local Anova assemblies the “alliances with different actors” proposed included building a broad left and left-nationalist front on the basis of the AGE experience (in Galicia but for some also at the level of the Spanish State), creating a coalition of Galician left nationalist forces, and creating a broad coalition of left nationalist forces with others (Catalan , Basques and possibly Valencians, and Balearic and Canary Islanders), at the level of the Spanish state.

Anova Teo, supported by many of the younger delegates, envisaged building on the alliance with the United Left that had produced AGE, with any future agreement with other forces like the Galician Nationalist Bloc (BNG) to be an addition, and not alternative, to that.

Within Brotherhood Assembly (EI), the most numerous force in Anova, the majority favoured alliances among nationalist forces, but some favoured the perspective of a coalition with the Republican Left of Catalunya (ERC), Amaiur (the Basque left-nationalist formation in the Spanish parliament) and the BNG, while others leant towards a Galicia-only coalition of Anova, BNG and CxG.

In his closing speech as newly elected spokeperson, Beiras took care to praise the harmony and process of “osmosis” taking place in the AGE parliamentary fraction (composed of four Anova and five United Left deputies), “We work as a single parliamentary caucus, instead of two who are cohabiting.” At the same time, “I would dare to say, without making Yolanda Díaz [United Left leader, present as observer at the congress] a little uncomfortable, that the process of working together is leading EU Galicia to adopt with increasing clarity the Galician nation and the Galician people as a political framework.”

Beiras also remarked that Anova had “maximum responsibility” towards the 200,000 Galicians who had voted for AGE, and that “Anova stands above the separate projects of its component parts”.

However, he stressed that any electoral alliance was secondary to the basic broad front envisaged by Anova — that with “the citizenry in revolt” and the social movements expressing it. Strengthening their rebellion would require social and electoral alliances with all forces that are for breaking with the status quo and who see themselves as “Galicianist and left”, an indication that the Anova spokesperson could still envisage alliance with the BNG and other nationalist currents.

The compromise amendment made a “full and total” commitment to reproducing the AGE model in future instances, but where this was not possible, did not rule out Anova exercising its right to construct other alliances. This stance of not closing off options is particularly relevant for the 2014 European elections, where an alliance of left-nationalist forces from Galicia, Euskadi and Catalonia would stand a good chance of winning increased representation in the European parliament.

After Beiras’s intervention, the compromise motion passed with only two delegates against. Noriega afterwards commented, “In the end a synthesis was reached in which the role of AGE is recognised, and, in fact, the paragraph is all Teo in that it recognises [AGE] positively, says it must be deepened and tried to be expanded”, even while “Anova will maintain its sovereignty in defending its position in the electoral process”.

The other main area where there were significant amendments was in the area of language policy. The draft political resolution’s perspective of moving towards monolinguism in the Galician tongue and “paying attention to our being part of the Portuguese-Galician language system” was concretised. Anova is now committed to move to Galician as the language of instruction in the education system (as with Catalan in the Catalan education system), in parallel with the promotion of Portuguese language and culture in the education system and in Galician society.

The discussion over whether Anova should explicitly identify as socialist ended in broad agreement with the term of identification “republican socialist”.

The final vote on the political resolution saw a much broader majority in favour than had been the case for the organisational document.

Election for coordinating committee

Despite all the shenanigans over method of election and despite the defeat of the Anova Teo amendment to the political resolution, Martiño Noriega emerged as easily the most voted member of the incoming coordinating committee. All organised forces with the exception of the New Galician Left (NEG) achieved representation on it. The NEG, a split from the most Galicianist part of the Party of Socialists of Galicia, missed out because it refused to negotiate for representation on any of the four unofficial how-to-votes circulating at the time of the vote.

The gender balance of 38 men and 37 women was achieved by dropping the last six male candidates with a winning vote in favour of the six next female candidates.

According to the web site Galicia Confidential, 36 positions on the coordinating committee were won by the EI majority, 10 to 15 by Anova Teo and its sympathisers, 25 according to the how-to-vote proposed by the Galician Popular Front, and the rest by the smaller groups and independents.

That balance was maintained for the coordinating committee executive proposed by Beiras at the first coordinating committee meeting on June 28, and subject to approval by local assemblies.

Conclusion

The tensions on show at the Anova congress arise from deep within the progressive pole of Spanish and Galician politics and were a partial microcosm of those operating across the left in the Spanish state. One the one hand, given the success of AGE and with the United Left and AGE continuing to rise in the polls, the pressures for unity between the all-Spanish left and left nationalist forces, and between the “old” left and social movements, just keeps growing.

Such unity is the sine qua non for creating a “Spanish Syriza” — a credible alternative to the decaying but still kicking PP-PSOE duopoly.

One the other, unity cannot be achieved without compromise and the question for all sides involved is how much and on what positions to compromise to achieve it. That reality is creating debate within all forces, of which the Anova congress was the latest reflection.

For example, here is how United Left national MP and indignado Alberto Garzón put the issue as it affects the United Left (in the May 26 edition of the web site Nuevo Mundo): “I believe that [the United Left] should reproduce and improve on the phenomenon of Galicia. Many of us are for that line, but not everyone, that’s true. It is a slow, difficult process, but running in our favour is the drive from society. Right now the organisation [United Left, IU] is slow compared to how the most spontaneous parts of society react socially, like the Platform of Mortgage Victims (PAH), 15M and other movements that are two steps ahead of IU’s official position.”

In a diagnosis similar to that which gave rise to Anova, Garzón added: “People need an instrument: either IU turns itself into that instrument, or, if not, people will look for another one. For this IU needs to show that it is attractive, show that it can bring people together through a process of refounding …the important things is to draw people around a project and not the banner we carry.”

Yolanda Díaz, United Left coordinator in Galicia has a similar approach, commenting that that United Left remained committed to expanding AGE as a broad front of the “plural left” and “the alternative to Feijóo”, even if Anova “legitimately, decided to run in another form in the European elections”.

Within Anova, the pressure to keep distance from the United Left remains strong. According to Beiras in his interview with La Voz de Galicia:, “AGE’s electoral success ended up being a problem for Anova, because it monopolised our attention and part of the membership turned the relationship upside down, giving more importance to AGE when it is just a coalition in the parliament. Then what do you do? A baby, Anova, has just been born and we let it die of hunger? EU-IU has a strategic project that is not ours. If we starve Anova, they would drag us to the point the BNG used to tendentiously accuse us of reaching — of going over to an Hispanicist outlook.”

(Concern about being seen as appendage of the United Left was on show in the week before the Anova congress, when Beiras chose not to show for a Madrid meeting with United Left leader Cayo Lara and Syriza national spokeperson Alex Tsipras. The poster advertising the event listed Beiras from AGE, not Anova.)

Where is all this heading? Galicia Confidential´s report had a rather gloomy reading — of a congress divided in two — and commented: “The wound opened at this gathering will be take time to close. The only medicine capable of healing it is called Xosé Manuel Beiras.”

Four factors could possibly weigh against this conclusion. While the 77-year old Beiras is presently indispensable, his message that “Anova as a project exists over and above the interests of its segmented components” is reinforced by four realities:

* The fact that the great majority of Anova activists, whatever their affiliation, call themselves “Beiristas”;

* The pressure to defend and extend the gains represented by AGE;

* The extremely democratic nature of the Anova decision-making process, which involved over 50 local meetings and gave the final decisions of the congress total authority;

* The reality that, for the first time in the Spanish state, different component parts of the revolt against neoliberalism and austerity actually find themselves in the same organisation and having to deal with, and not just dismiss, each other’s positions.

In this context, one encouraging feature of the congress was the presence of delegates who were not uncritically aligned to any of the various groupings and whose weight was sufficient to achieve sensible results on a range of issues.

In his closing speech, made after the delegates had heard from Galician social movement representatives, Beiras made a point of stressing the value of all components of Anova, and of asking each and every one to appreciate the contribution of all.

In particular, he took pains to explain to the younger delegates, “who often criticise the old culture”, the value of the older militants who had battled on within left-nationalism for up to 50 years and had never “crossed the border to the PP or the PSOE” or to soft jobs in Galician government.

Against the visceral anti-partyism so common in Spain he explained that the process of building Anova had shown the difference between parties as apparatuses and parties as collective and organised expression of the aspirations of the people in struggle.

The congress ended with powerful singing of Grandola, Vila Morena, the hymn to people’s power associated with the 1974 Portuguese revolution, and of the Galician national anthem.

Galicia is often dismissed in Spanish political life as rather irrelevant and provincial compared to Madrid, Barcelona, the Basque Country and Andalusia. With the rise of Anova and AGE — the highest expressions to date of left and left-nationalist unity here — Spain’s most Celtic region may well put that prejudice to rest for once and for all.

[Dick Nichols is the European correspondent of Green Left Weekly and Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal. He attended the Anova congress as representative of the Australian Socialist Alliance.]

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