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Inicio Investigaciones de Historia Económica - Economic History Research Gabriel Tortella, José Luis García Ruiz, Clara Eugenia Núñez, and Gloria Qui...
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Vol. 15. Núm. 1.
Páginas 67-68 (Febrero 2019)
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Vol. 15. Núm. 1.
Páginas 67-68 (Febrero 2019)
Book Review
DOI: 10.1016/j.ihe.2018.02.012
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Gabriel Tortella, José Luis García Ruiz, Clara Eugenia Núñez, and Gloria Quiroga. Cataluña en España: historia y mito, Madrid, Gadir, 2016, 538 pp.
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John Coastworth
University of Columbia, United States
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Cataluña en España, Historia y mito confronts the myths of Catalan nationalism with scrupulous and rigorous analysis of the historical “distortions” embedded in the movement's ideology and the claims of its leaders. Gabriel Tortella, former president of the International Economic History Association and Spain's leading economic historian, is the lead author joined by three distinguished historians of Spain including José Luis García Ruiz of the Universidad Complutense; Clara Eugenia Nuñez, co-author with Tortella of the excellent textbook on El desarrollo de la España Contemporánea; and Gloria Quiroga, also of the Complutense. It would be difficult to assemble a more impressive and knowledgeable group of historians for any project. Not surprisingly, one of the major contributions of this work is its thoughtful and rigorous analysis of Catalan economic development and its relation to the economy of Spain as a whole.

Nationalist movements are built on stories: “foundational” myths of epic conflict, shared suffering imposed by alien evildoers, exemplary individual heroism, collective reconciliation and ultimate triumph. Nationalist myths are crucial to the success of nationalist movements. Without them, nationalist leaders cannot create “imagined communities” capable of laying moral claim to the loyalty (or at least the acquiescence) of enough people to seize power and hold it. Evidence-based historical accounts, the logic and rigor of modern social science, and comparisons to other “cases” are anathema to nationalist myth-making. Though the authors of Cataluña en España generally avoid polemics, their opening pages throw down the gauntlet. “The efforts that some historians have made to rip away the history of Catalonia from the history of Spain as a whole have led to strange historiographic results that show how much an ideologized history can deform the facts to make them fit a preconceived framework [i–ii].” To the contrary, they argue, “the history of Catalonia is not comprehensible without embedding it in the history of Spain just as the history of [Spain] cannot be understood without locating it in the history of Europe [iii].” This important work then reviews the history of “Catalonia in Spain” from ancient times to the present.

In the first of seven chapters (plus a chapter of “Conclusions”), the book traces the “Slow Creation of Spain: A Thousand Years of History,” contrasting this long historical process with the fragmented and episodic appearance of Catalonia as a dynastic “county” or “principality,” ruled by the Counts of Barcelona, but never an independent state since becoming part of the Kingdom of Aragon in 1137. The revival of Mediterranean commerce in the late middle ages benefited the merchants of Barcelona as did Aragonese maritime conquests in the western Mediterranean. This led to the creation of imperfectly representative institutions, like the Generalitat, but the authors reject comparison to English and Dutch economic and institutional advances.

Chapter 2 explores Catalonia in Spain in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries from the problematic union of the two crowns (Aragon, which included Catalonia, and Castille) through the French wars and the complex revolts, not limited to Catalonia, against the tax burdens imposed by the Union of Arms (1641). The chapter is notable for its analysis of the War of the Segadors, the “first Catalan rebellion” that ended in disaster for the rebels and their ambitions. The chapter concludes with the onset an economic recovery at the end of the seventeenth century. Chapter 3 then describes the economic and demographic growth of Catalonia in the eighteenth century following the disastrous (for both Catalonia and Spain as a whole) War of the Spanish Succession (1703–13). The “second Catalan rebellion,” sometimes cited as yet another precursor of Catalonia's modern nationalism, “was not a war of secession,”’ the authors argue [71], “but rather a desperate defense of medieval privileges (fueros)” that led to the suppression of the groups and institutions that supported the rebellion and paved the way for Bourbon institutional reforms and political centralization, the “Nueva Planta” of King Philip V, that ultimately benefited Catalonia and facilitated its economic rebirth in the decades that followed. Chapter 4 focuses on the impact of the Independence War and the loss of the empire, catastrophes for both Spain and Catalonia.

Chapter 5 focuses on the nineteenth-century disjuncture between the relative stagnation of Spanish economy and society as a whole and the rapid emergence of Catalonia as an economic powerhouse despite significant political and social turmoil. Catalonia's “industrial revolution,” led by textile production, contributed to protests and rebellions by exacerbating old divisions (peasants rejecting taxes) and creating entirely new ones (urban discontents, unions). Nationalist versions of this era claim that Catalan economic progress occurred despite the political discrimination it suffered from Madrid. The authors reject this myth as “almost entirely baseless” [199], pointing out that Catalan industrialization depended heavily on protective tariffs imposed by the Spanish government, the costs of which were borne by consumers throughout Spain. Particularly interesting in the analysis of Catalonia's role in the major political conflicts of the era in which they describe in telling detail the divisions within Catalan society throughout the century, contrary to the “myth Catalonia's monolithic unity” [199] and demonstrate how Catalan industrial interests managed to use the early rise of Catalan nationalism to pressure the national government for tax and tariff concessions.

The last two chapters of the book treat the twentieth century up to the death of Franco (1900–1975) and the transition up to the present day. Contrary to versions of the twentieth century that see Catalonia as singled out for particularly harsh treatment, the authors show that Catalonia benefited more than other regions (except perhaps the Basque region) from national policies that favored industrial development. Most importantly, Catalonia lacked solid banking institutions and depended on the better-managed Madrid banks for capital to finance industrial development. In addition, the authors show that “public enterprise was absolutely decisive in Catalonia in this period [257],” pointing to the automobile, energy, and chemical industries as well as public investment in transportation infrastructure. As the authors conclude [292], “Without doubt, the reality of the Catalan business sector again demonstrates that it is impossible to understand the Catalan economy without openly admitting.. the contribution of external elements both from the rest of Spain and outside Spain as well.”

Chapter 7, the longest and perhaps most interesting chapter, is devoted to the contemporary era. Having rejected a series of myths and misunderstandings projected by diverse Catalan nationalists and their organizations, the authors examine the “road to separatism.” Why is Catalan nationalism thriving, when its intellectual foundations are so weak? The answer does not lie in the nationalists’ economic record. The authors provide an extensive review of the ineffective economic management of the Generalitat governments under nationalist control and carefully estimate the catastrophic impact that independence would have on the Catalan economy. The key to the nationalists’ success, the authors argue, is the aggressive campaign the nationalists have waged to “indoctrinate” the population. Since their unexpected victory in the 1980 regional elections, the nationalists have used their control of the Generalitat to impose Catalan monolingualism, take over or tame the mass media, and inflict a Catalanized education on the region's schoolchildren, all with damaging consequences. But despite the nationalists’ relentless myth-making campaigns, the authors point out that [435] “Contrary to what the Generalitat governments have claimed, the levels of support for nationalism have not changed much since 1979…”

A short review can scarcely do justice to this major work of historical scholarship. It is full of new insights not only on Catalan and Spanish economic relations, but also on a wide range of social, demographic, political and cultural issues. Nationalists will not love this, but none will be able to ignore it.

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