Ross Ahlfeld: Catalonia and the SDL

CommonSpace columnist Ross Ahlfeld outlines how the Catholic Workers movement approaches some of the big global issues of the day

THIS WEEK Glasgow Catholic Workers have been discussing the recent referendum in Catalonia as well as the rising tide of fascism across the world. 

Naturally, we are deeply distressed by the violent beatings carried out by the Spanish authorities at polling stations during the vote.

As anarchists, Catholic Workers tend not to be too interested in elections (The Catholic Worker Movement was controversially neutral during the Spanish civil war). Yet, I'd say most of us would tentatively back Catalonia's autonomy for a number of reasons. 

For example, the anarchist-syndicalist tradition of Proudhon, particularly his mutualism, has always been strong in Catalonia. Historically, many within the Church in Catalonia also wanted the factories and railways etc to become democratically organised mutual associations and cooperatives. 

As anarchists, Catholic Workers tend not to be too interested in elections (The Catholic Worker Movement was controversially neutral during the Spanish civil war).

Today, we Catholic Workers still want such associations to be models for agriculture, industry and trade. More so, our co-founder, Peter Maurin, was himself of Catalan parentage, and modern Catholic radicalism is better represented within Catalan autonomy rather than the Spanish state. One example would be the Benedictine monastery of Montserrat.

So, while we remain opposed to the bureaucratic state and all forms of nationalism, as well as what we see as the state capitalism of the socialist parties, we still consider Catalan autonomy to be an act of decentralisation.

Yet, while all this is purely subjective within our movement, what we can say for certain, as non-violent Christians, is that the violence of the Spanish Government against Catalans is completely unacceptable.

However, there still remains a common misconception about Catholic Workers suggesting that we do not directly participate in politics. Rather, we’d prefer to "build a new society from within the shell of the old", rejecting the norms of parliamentary democracy.

To a certain extent, this is true. Indeed, most of us Catholic Workers here in Glasgow do not vote in elections. Some others are tax resisters due to the fact that their Christian pacifism renders paying taxes for militarism (and voting) incompatible with such convictions.

Yet, I'd say most of us would tentatively back Catalonia's autonomy for a number of reasons. We consider Catalan autonomy to be an act of decentralisation.

But this does not mean that we do not directly participate in politics. Our co-founder, Dorothy Day, was heavily involved in the civil rights movement as well as protests, and supported Cesar Chavez and the United Farm workers Union.

Similarly, Glasgow Catholic Workers have protested against militarism here in Scotland and joined CND marches in Glasgow.

It’s not all one way traffic. That is to say, it shouldn’t just be about us Christians joining secular political campaigns and movements. Rather, we should always bring our own values to the wider justice and peace movement.

For example, we know all forms of racism are gravely immoral, and many prominent Catholics both – clergy and laity – have rightly stated their opposition to the recent neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville in the USA. 

Equally, xenophobia, anti-Muslim bigotry, anti-Semitism and sexism are not compatible with church teachings. You simply cannot be Christian and support fascism.

Many prominent Catholics both – clergy and laity – have rightly stated their opposition to the recent neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville in the USA. 

Despite this obvious fact, to look at some media outlets, we could be forgiven for thinking that the 'Antifa' are dangerous anti-clerical communists, while the alt-right stands up for Christian values and western civilisation like the chivalrous Crusader knights of old - hence, the Scottish Defence League's use of Christian flags and symbols at its anti-Muslim demonstration in Perth last month.

In reality, these fascists are waving the flags of our saints, St George and St Andrew, not for Christianity but their own agenda. They are using Christian images and language in the name of hatred. Therefore, we must take back these symbols of love by standing shoulder to shoulder in solidarity with the Antifa movement.

We must reclaim the cross of Jesus from those who would blaspheme our Lord with the sin of racism; this is our duty to our neighbour and our baptismal responsibility as Christians.

Or, as the great Abraham Heschel once said, "indifference to evil is worse than evil itself". Even so, perhaps we should not be too hasty to label others as evil without first trying to understand what kind of fear and pain has driven someone to hate. 

Unlike the militant Antifa, we do not seek the alt-right's annihilation, rather we seek their conversation. It is exactly this type of personalism and unlimited peacemaking which Catholic Workers and any follower of Jesus of Nazareth are called to bring to the anti-racism movement.

Xenophobia, anti-Muslim bigotry, anti-Semitism and sexism are not compatible with church teachings. You simply cannot be Christian and support fascism.

More so, there is an inherent danger which comes from having an Antifa movement which is too narrow, too Marxist and too student driven. All people of good will, all people of faith and no faith, should be able to look at the anti-racism counter demonstrations and see themselves.

Most of all, our job is to defuse any potential for violence through the application of Martin Luther King's highly disciplined guidelines on non-violent protest. In the days ahead, it is this discipline which we must bring to each and every demonstration and protest, across the world and here in Scotland too.

So let’s come together in solidarity with our brothers and sisters across the political and ideological spectrum and say with one voice: "Whatsoever you do to the least of my people, that you do unto me."

Picture courtesy of Oscar Miño Peralta

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Comments

DirkVA's picture

DirkVA

Fri, 10/06/2017 - 11:02

As someone who is both a Catholic from Charlottesville and an activist in Catalonia, I particularly appreciate all that you say here.

Roger Evans
Sitges (Barcelona)

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