Each acceleration of the crisis multiplies at the same time the urgency of the concentration and centralization of capital. In the framework of state capitalism characteristic of this era, the great applications of capital are protected, almost guaranteed, but also controlled by the state, which tries to permanently keep a certain balance between the different groups and interests of capital. And even so, as the recession deepens, centralization is reinforced by consultations and task forces and concentration is given an active course through more or less concrete guidelines.
The banking sector is especially pressing in the current context for the state, or in other words, for capital as a whole. They need at the same time to increase the level of risk and prevent the crisis from becoming a financial crisis. The way out of this contradiction is to raise it to a higher level. In other words, double the stakes.
The Spanish Central Bank has been giving out signals for months. First it assured that would not increase the solvency requirements in order to open the door; then marked a horizon: if by 2021 the banks had not concentrated spontaneously, it would make mergers obligatory. Finally, it made clear that while not acting as a matchmaker, managers would be free to negotiate among themselves according to their own objectives.
Bankia and Caixabank
This morning, Bankia and Caixabank formally announced their merger. The result will be the largest bank in Spain, although not the largest Spanish bank, since BBVA and Santander generate more than half of their business in Ibero-America. The idea of the merger is that both banks share remarkable synergies, that is, they will save costs by merging because they will be able to do away with duplicated workers and equipment. The first calculations speak of a cost reduction of between 200 and 700 million euros per year supported by the closure of one out of four branches and the dismissal of between 2,400 and 7,500 workers.
Speculative capital, which for many months had been betting against Bankia in order to force the state to sell part of its stake at a loss, has responded enthusiastically: Bankia’s shares rose by 30% and Caixabank’s by 10%. Partly because they can flair the business, but also because the spanish government has definitively ruled out the option of creating a public retail bank to compete with private capital.
In short, Sánchez scored a victory sealing his honeymoon with the Spanish corporate bourgeoisie: he gave a boost to the financial sector, once the flagship of Spanish imperialism, had become a risk and a weighed down on the whole of national capital, driving the devaluation of its main companies. It is also a new slap against Podemos, which has to give up one of the last differentiating points of its program -the public retail bank- but which, for the same reason, is rescued from the displeasure it produces in a part of the Spanish bourgeoisie that participates in the government.
The important thing lies elsewhere. This merger gives us important clues about the lines along which Spanish capital is going to reorganize internally with the crisis. The main guideline, as remarked just yesterday by Botín, president of the Banco de Santander, is to concentrate both efforts and capital.
The roadmap, we were told at the beginning of this summer, has a pillar in the energy sector, in which the state directly guarantees the profitability of large funds with surplus capital, which will be the basis of the green deal and for which mergers are already being prepared in a logic similar to that of the banking sector.
The political form has all the signs of following the French pattern presented this week: in the name of saving employment, packaging the sacrifices in the name of the green deal with a decrease of taxes on production and literature on social cohesion. Cohesion that like the Sánchez’s measures of social justice go little beyond the generalization of temporary layoffs and the “confidence” in the “fact” that businesses will work for the common good.
An extra consequence: Catalan capital and Spanish imperialism
But there’s more to this particular merger than that. Caixabank and its parent company Criteria are the main group of Spanish capital based in Catalonia with executives of Catalan extraction. The director of the merged entity is José Ignacio Gorigolzarri, ex-CEO of BBVA -the bank resulting from the merger of the historic Basque banks that were fundamental to the birth of Spanish financial capital- during the expansion of that bank to Mexico and South America, one of the most successful and influential moves in the history of Spanish imperialism. And the operation is not only sponsored by the ECB and Moncloa, but Bankia continues to be state-owned. How should we interpret this?
In the first place, the Catalan bourgeoisie does not exist in the terms painted by those who supported the independence process from outside. There is no national Catalan bourgeoisie as such. There is a Catalan part of the Spanish bourgeoisie that was not tempted at all by independence.
The Catalan bourgeoisie is a part of the Spanish bourgeoisie, not an independently developing bourgeoisie. Could Repsol or Aguas de Barcelona have “internationalized” themselves as they did a Catalan state? No. […] The Catalan big bourgeoisie has a “homeland,” common interests, a terrifying social project… but that homeland is not the Catalan autonomy, it is Spain.
We have to see the concentrated big bourgeoisie of our time as a kind of cooperative of overseers. And the petty bourgeoisie as their managers in each of the workshops. Those in charge of the workshops, like Catalonia, see the external alliances of the big bourgeoisie from afar, feel them – rightly – as dangerous to their interests and wish to have more autonomy, contribute less to central expenses and even develop small imperial-commercial adventures on their own. The Spanish national bourgeoisie, of which the Catalan big bourgeoisie is part, gives them leeway. But that is one thing, and letting the managers keep the ownership of the fixed capital of a particular workshop is a different matter.
Now let’s look at the conflict through the eyes of Caixa or Sabadell. If you pay your fees for the maintenance of the state in a problematic workshop whose managers are bent on turning it into an independent enterprise, it is normal, at least at the beginning, to take your taxes out of it. It doesn’t matter if it was the workshop where you started your career and where you like to live. As much as you have supported the managers in front of your partners until now, you know that most of your clients would remain within the old state (Sabadell) and that you depend on the Spanish state to secure markets and massive investments around the world against the rest of the jackals stronger than you (la Caixa). Your primary complaint is that, after ten years of crisis, the Spanish state can hardly restrain them in your main markets… there is no way you would reorganize yourself around a new, young, smaller state starting from scratch out there.
And yet, for historical reasons, the Catalan branch of Spanish national capital has only participated eventually in one particular way in the imperialist effort of Spanish capital as a whole. While Telefónica, Santander or BBVA were expanding their business to Argentina, Brazil, Colombia or México, reorganizing themselves as multinationals, Caixabank -member of Criteria- did it through industrial companies like Repsol and shares in foreign capital groups like Suez that gave it more liquidity. But that model is now finished. The European Central Bank did not want the banks to take more risks than those of their own core business. And Caixabank had to get rid of its industrial portfolio. If it wants to grow, it will have to do so on its own terms.
The prospect will merge Criteria/Caixabank even more with the rest of the families and factions of Spanish national capital. And it may well be a prelude to further expansion into those markets where Spanish capital has been historically more present and was now in a downward spiral. Goirigolzarri’s role and the state’s perspective in the equation may well point in this direction. To this we must add the dowry of Caixabank itself: its importance within Portugal. The main destinations of Portuguese capital are Lusophone Africa and Brazil, where Telefonica and above all Santander are already strong.
To summarize: the concentration of capital underway within Spain, which is now being inaugurated in banking and will soon begin to transform the energy sector, points simultaneously to a reconsideration and calming of the relationship with the Catalan petty bourgeoisie, which is mainly pro-independence, and to a new orientation of Spanish capital towards Ibero-America and Africa. Will the focus of the state and capital be marked by the combination of both elements?