“The struggle of the working class can not be led discursively, or in practical terms, by sectors that do not know what it is to live like the working class”.
Arantxa Tirado (Barcelona, 1978) is a proud daughter of the working class who recognizes herself as “from the hood”, someone who has had to work to pay for her studies and who has spent almost eleven years in Mexico and one in Venezuela (she took a master’s degree and a doctorate in Latin American Studies at the UNAM). She also holds a doctorate degree in International Relations from the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB), where she has recently begun to teach. We conducted the interview after she recently returned from Venezuela, there she broadcast live a series of videos through social networks that have earned her threats and insults from the Venezuelan opposition. Along with Ricardo Romero Laullón, aka Nega, half of Los Chikos del Maíz, she wrote the book “The working class does not go to paradise”, a title that dialogues with Elio Petri, the great Italian filmmaker (La Classe operaia va in paradiso) and who has become part of the solid current that tries to recover the class struggle as a reference for political work and social intervention.
Mundo Obrero: Why write a book about the working class?
Arantxa Tirado: The book connects with my concerns as a militant since adolescence, I come from a republican family on the father’s side, in which politics has been very present in the conversations … and in the silences. It is the republican family pride that leads me to participate in politics and be an activist since age 20 in a group where the working class and class extraction were very present. At the time that Nega proposes to me to make the book, back in 2013, we were both discussing social networks with people from a wide range of the transformative left with whom we saw that we did not share discourse. On the other hand, we, despite coming from different traditions of communism, had coincidences that came from a common origin of class, from very similar experiences.
MO: What or who did you want to answer?
AT: Those of us who feel that they consider themselves the vanguard of the struggle for ours, but when you start to scratch they are not of ours, from the point of view of the extraction of class, beyond that we share a trench. Of course that does not mean that there have not been great revolutionaries that came from the petty bourgeoisie, even from the oligarchy. But what we are proposing is that the struggle of the working class can not be led discursively, or in practical terms, by sectors that do not know what it is to live like the working class and, above all, allow themselves to give lessons to the working class. We try to show that there is usually a time when their speech does not connect, because people do not feel identified, because there is something there that squeaks, and people see it.
MO: Does it make sense to talk about class struggle?
AT: It makes as much sense as talking about the ozone layer, it’s something that exists, it’s there although some people do not want to see it, it’s in front of their eyes and it’s there everyday. The class struggle is expressed in social relations and however much capitalism has evolved and with it the composition of social classes, adopting new characteristics, the social relationship between groups with opposing interests is there. That is the class struggle. If we wanted to be condescending and believe that the term working class no longer serves – something that we question – even accepting that we could call it an elephant instead of a working class, that elephant has a force with antagonistic interests in front of it. Others argue that there is no working class because there is no class for itself, conscious, fighting for their rights, to which we respond that many people, even at a preconscious level, know that it is, is recognized as a working class, even if instinctively, maybe not in an elaborate speech, but they know that they are subjected to work, they know that the boss is the one who is exploiting us, that he is cutting back their salary, that he is demanding that they work overtime without paying them. That concrete knowledge that the working class has of its exploitation and its material condition of existence and life, sometimes translates into something prepolitical, in rage, in class hatred, in an instinctive awareness of a we, we are those of down, the oppressed, the poor, the working class. Many people have that experience, and that experience is worth much more than all the theories of thousands of academics, from their university offices, about the new subject emerging from the precarious who opposes a working class with privileges and blah blah.
“The experience of the working class is worth much more than all the theories of thousands of academics”
MO: I still listen to many people in the neighborhoods calling themselves working class, even call their neighborhood as “working class”, however there is a disparity between that self-recognition and the denial of that category by the academy, the media and on the part of politics.
AT: Yes, also on the part of politics, which is logical if we take into account that there are few politicians, even on the left, of workers’ origin, understood in the sense of those who sell their labor power but also come from a working class neighborhood, from an experience and a working culture. In the book we give data of the class origin of the university students of the Spanish State and we cross it with the educational level of the Spanish parliamentarians. If for the 2011-12 academic year less than 10% of the students were children of manual workers (compared to 17.3% of children of technicians, professionals, scientists or intellectuals) and 90% of the deputies who took office in 2015 they had a university degree, we can infer that there is a very high percentage of children from an important segment of the working class, manual workers (almost 49% of the workforce according to some studies), which is not reaching politics, and not only, but above all, high politics. The filter of access to leadership positions is important, in these positions there is a militant profile with studies, an enlightened family or more affluent than the rest and that has less work or family burdens, the militant who is in the factory or is in the company has less visibility than the militant who is working the University as professor, who has more flexible schedules, which usually take the floor because he/she has security. The working class has a certain level of insecurity because they have made them believe that they do not know, that knowledge is only studying, what is in books or in formal studies, one more way of denying knowledge and people’s wisdom, which is often orally transmitted.
MO: And it’s a form of classism.
AT: Clearly, and it is present in many areas. There is the classism of those who hold political and economic power and also of those in the media, who even make fun of the social sectors that come from those neighborhoods, I remember Ana Rosa Quintana saying that Diego Cañamero could not be a deputy because it said “pograma” instead of “programa”. That lady, who has been able to study and present a TV show in prime time that gives her a lot of money, seems to come from the working class … Well, she should remember her origins, surely many people in her neighborhood could not study, not because of lack of ability not for lack of desire, but for the circumstances of life, and that does not mean that these people have less right to participate in politics or even to exist, because it seems that some people are upset that we exist, that we leave our natural environment, that is born to be their slaves and servants, a child of the working class has to reproduce what his father did, work in the factory, in the workshop, in the grocery store, wherever, but be careful, as you are a child of the working class and want to take your feet off the pot and enter the university world, in the intellectual world, academic, media or political, you’re going to crash, tell Antonio Maestre. Then there are those who presume of worker origin in a folkloric way, like Jorge Javier Vázquez or Belén Esteban, who are buffoons of the system, used to sell an interested image of what the system wants to present as a working class, as basic, apolitical, that does not have any kind of social anxiety, that buys the values of the system: enrich themselves, dress or buy certain things.
MO: And have many likes on social networks.
AT: It is sad and worrying that people are classified by their market exchange value, one of the indexes is the number of followers you have on social networks, a virtual world that is very good for a few of us to believe that we are marking opinion, but that is a tiny part of reality.
MO: Let’s go back a moment to what you said about formal education and popular wisdom, it seems an important aspect of what gives this section its name, the battle of ideas.
AT: Indeed, we must not confuse formal education with political education and much less with political instinct. The Andalusian day laborers and the Catalan anarchists of the 30s did not have careers or doctorates, but they knew who the enemy was, of tactics, of strategy and that they could theorize from their suffering and their experience surely much better than those who are paid to think about the academy. I do not want to say that it does not matters, much less being academic. It seems important to me to also vindicate the study, something that those political organizations had clear and for that reason they fomented the study and the reading of and among the workers, but for their collective emancipation, not as mere accumulation of information for the personal career. I think it is essential not to lose sight of the relationship between study and emancipation. When you come from below and you can study that gives you strength and often marks the difference because it gives you other tools to discuss in areas that have been vetoed to your class. Those who, even coming from the working class, have the luck to dedicate themselves to academic and intellectual work, we are aware of the advantages of our situation. It is the difference between dedicating 8 hours of your day to read books or academic articles or dedicating those 8 hours to do a monotonous or mechanical work, another few hours to care and dedicate your free time to read and study, if you have enough strength.
“The working class is diverse, is an immigrant, is a woman, black, mulatto, white, diversity we can not leave to the postmodern”
MO: That approach has consequences in the organizational model, in the concrete way of intervention in society.
AT: The central issue as organizations on the left is how to intervene, how to return to grassroots work in the neighborhoods, not to go to the neighborhoods, but to be present, to be a neighborhood. For example, to recover the idea of “casas del pueblo” integrated in the neighborhood, in the village, build neighborhood meeting spaces, something increasingly difficult because neoliberalism has broken those ties, maximizing individual social relations, you live in a building and do not know who your neighbor is. The organizations of the left should take note of all these movements that exist or are emerging from Associations of Fathers and Mothers, of platforms that are mounted to fight against an urbanistic project, urban gardens, groups of cares, etc. issues that arise with a little allergy to political organizations, when political organizations and their cadres in the neighborhoods are, unlike other historical moments, more isolated, should be the vanguard of those struggles that are sometimes as something apart.
MO: And the unity of the working class, how is it achieved in this context?
AT: The unit is apparently simple, but in practice it is very complicated. In theory I would tell you that if you go to people and talk to them in terms of class, making them understand that they are part of a gear as an exploited class, you will connect with their interests because you talk about their personal experience. I think it is a mistake to intervene by treating the worker as a voter of Ciudadanos or as a potential voter of Vox, or as an abstentionist or socialist voter, rather than as a worker and member of your class. It is about taking the debate to the issues that concern him as a worker, making the common in the diverse and concrete experiences of exploitation so that instinctive belonging can become a conscious belonging. That is to do politics in terms of class. Transmit ideas before acronyms, with which they can connect, without the prejudice that they come from this or that political party. Then we will explain that those who defend these ideas are called Unidos Podemos or the Communist Party.
MO: I think that sometimes we do the opposite, we put the electoral sociology above the class struggle.
AT: Yes, because that’s where the electoral calculations of the parties come in and the particular interest of people who live by politics and institutions, even though they are ours. I believe that ours are also those who do not vote for us. I am going to say something that may scandalize some but I can have more in common with a voter of Ciudadanos of my neighborhood, in terms of class, than with a voter of Unidos Podemos who lives in a bourgeois neighborhood of Barcelona, although with this one we share world view and political positioning. Of course, politically, I have to build with the voter of UP (Unidos Podemos), but culturally and in terms of experience, what I have to achieve is that this person, of my class, look for their class interests, and note that these organizations defend.
MO: Well, that does not mean that there are no declassed people, or that the aspirational model Bernabé talks about does not play havoc with the working class.
AT: Of course there are people declassed, of course there are people who coming from the working class are looking at those who are above to be like them and who have unsupportive and selfish behavior in their daily lives. But experience says that the majority of the working class, because of little apparent class consciousness, has it and when you address them in those terms it comes out. Another thing is that they are going to join you in a concrete fight, that’s where fears come in: “they’re going to take away my money in a strike; is that I strike it I do not see it; nobody has worried about me and my problems “, etc. That exists, but in parallel, throughout history there are many people who have sacrificed themselves, that is why we have achieved victories and conquests that are now going backwards. The power is interested in hiding it, but the working class has a historical tradition of solidarity that emerges even in the hardest moments.
MO: To do class politics, we have to do class analysis. Is not there a strong influence of the narratives of diversity? Do you miss this analysis in the organizations of the alternative or antagonistic left?
AT: In some it is quite missed and in others it may be too much for excessive oversimplification, and both seem equally dangerous to me. The working class is not a monolithic entity, it does not respond to the vision, often folkloric, of the factory worker, male and heterosexual. The working class is plural, it is also an immigrant, it is also a woman, black, mulatto, white, has a diversity of sexual identities. Therefore, I would not enter into the false dichotomy or working class or diversity, the working class is diverse, diversity can not be left to the postmodern.
MO: But the subject of the sentence is “the working class.”
AT: That’s. It is like precarious worker and worker precarious, precarious as a noun is not the same as precarious or precarious worker. When you substantiate, you fragment interests and confront some sectors of class with others: the precarious one against the worker with eight hours of contract that charges overtime, what the system now calls privileges.
MO: But capitalism in its current neoliberal phase uses these labels to fragment
AT: Because capitalism is interested in those sectors forget that they are also part of the working class, as well as transsexuals, environmentalists or Afro-descendants. A part of the activism is not aware of this and chooses to devote its time and political action to partial interests, without an overall vision and without framing those contradictions in the greater contradiction, the capital-labor conflict, which affects the whole world. That is legitimate, everyone chooses, but if we want to have a root transformation, that ends with those same contradictions, with these gender discriminations or for being LGTBI or with racism, that happens mainly to overcome capitalism.
MO: Some people will say that your position is maximalist.
AT: It is possible, but socialism is built on other values, antagonistic to the values that give rise to discrimination of any kind. Some even say that discrimination goes through the nature of the human being and that it has nothing to do with the economic system, but the truth is that it is functional to the capitalist economic system, because it is a way of fragmenting and dividing and justifying, low in a superstructural argument, a structural element.
MO: We have had conflicts such as Coca-Cola, Movistar, kellys, pensioners, with a strong class character and where traditional trade union organizations have been overcome.
AT: Rosa Luxemburg explains in her Strike of masses, party and union that the class can end up surpassing the organizations and the directions, how in the moments of explosion of the conflict the whole theory of mass organizations goes to hell because the events, the class and the workers overcome the whole theory and pulverize their praxis with its revolutionary force. That should lead us to reflect on the connection of the leadership with the base. It is advisable not to underestimate our class or its revolutionary potential. Maybe, as we say in the book, the class is lethargic, asleep or silent, it seems that it does not exist, but beware, when you wake up, some will know where to get.
Really this system is sustained because the workers are too good people and we swallow a lot, because people are very angry and if people do not go out to set fire to the streets, that could and would have elements to do it, it is because they have managed to tame us. I do not say it as a threat but as an expression of surprise, with what one suffers in work, occupational illnesses, suicides, the evicted … All this generates a deep rage that should not be underestimated and that can explode at any moment.
MO: Two more questions, before finishing, the question of sovereignty and the role of culture. What is sovereignty for you and what role can play in the construction of one of an antagonistic subject?
AT: The issue of sovereignty linked to the identity or national debate personally bores me, although I understand that it touches sensitive fibers and mobilizes many people. Now there is a Spanish left that wants to resignify the concept of Spain to give it a positive content. To me, honestly, I’m not interested. Maybe because I come from Catalonia and I am already from the homelands a little saturated. It may help to mobilize or build antagonistic subjects but, if there is no revolutionary vision, it will be antagonistic in terms that are only national, not sovereign. And that I do not know if it helps to raise awareness … The real sovereignty does not go to defend a national flag or identity, but an economic and political sovereignty, popular, which allows you as a government to adopt measures that break with the neoliberal and overcome capitalism. In Cuba or Venezuela, they have managed to link the defense of sovereignty and national identity with a revolutionary project. That is why the national identity has a power that it does not have around here.
“The merit of Los Chikos del Maíz and others has been the politicization of very young people”
MO: The book you wrote with a guy who is dedicated to the cultural battle, what value do you give to culture and creation in the construction of an antagonistic class subject?
AT: We live the commodification of culture and creative cultural spaces. In fact, we have worked a posteriori the issue of the workers of culture in another book that was edited last year by “21st century”. I think it is a fundamental struggle. Nega and I may have slightly different visions because of our different perspectives. He pointed out in a recent interview that no musical group is going to save you from fascism, but neighborhood associations, the party, the union. I agree, but we must also recognize the impact of art and culture on the awareness, which he plays down in an exercise of modesty. But nevertheless, the merit of Los Chikos del Maíz and others has been the politicization of very young people who have even been trained by inquiring and nourishing themselves on the references they make to books, to records, to historical figures, to politicians, which has led to some to activism. Music is a very powerful channel to transmit ideas. Watch the festival on the border with Cúcuta made by the representatives of the Miami music industry, in an interventionist military context, they know that music and artists, and the cultural front is part of the cultural battle. We would have to learn and use music for the benefit of our ideas, but you have to do it well, it’s useless to be revolutionary if you do not have the flow . Music, like writing or art in general, is not only fueled by political passion, but also by the inexplicable trade and that some call “duende” in flamenco and that is what allows us to connect in the irrational part of the human being , that should not be disdained.
Translated by JRE