What is happening in Catalonia? This nation, located in several regions where the culture is Catalan (Valencia, Baleares, Andorra, …), mainly in the Spanish State and partly in the French State, has a quickly evolving political situation with an unprecedented political crisis. Since 2015, the Generalitat Government (the political organization holding regional executive and legislative power in this “autonomous community”, which was integrated centuries ago into the Spanish State) has promised to move towards independence. To this end, the Generalitat convened a referendum on October 1, 2017.
The Conservative Spanish government of Mariano Rajoy (leader of the Partido Popular, representing the right wing coming from the Francoism) seems ready to use all means at its disposal to prevent the referendum, which the Constitutional Court declared illegal. It should be remembered that the police searched the Catalan regional government offices and seized nearly 10 million ballots on September 19 and 20, that 14 senior regional government officials were arrested on September 21, that the court has subpoened more than 700 Catalan mayors, that private companies that contributed to independence propaganda have been searched, and that the Constitutional Court announced fines of 6,000 to 12,000 euros daily for 24 referendum organizers until they comply with the “Justice’s” resolutions. 60 websites promoting the referendum have been shut down, the election campaign and placing of posters for independence made illegal, and Madrid has placed the region’s finances under surveillance to prevent illegal financing.
The Constitution considers Spain one indivisible State. In spite of the existence of different nations within it (Catalonia, the Basque Country, but also Asturias, Galicia, Andalusia …), the legacy of the empire and Francoism remains profoundly marked in the organization of the State. The bourgeoisie continues to celebrate “Hispanic Day”, and the main right-wing party, the PP, is the direct heir of the Francoist bureaucracy. But in reality, the Spanish bourgeoisie is a class torn between its imperialist character and the reality that they have not achieved centralization of state power. The country was built on gold from the colonization of Latin America, but there was a significant industrial delay afterward. Moreover, Spain has not completed its process of centralization, as France did by crushing its national minorities much more effectively with the spread of a republican Jacobin ideology. Only a few regions of northern Spain truly experienced the industrial revolution in the 19th century, such as the Basque Country (Euskal Herria), Catalonia (Catalunya), and Galicia.
These contradictions have created great misery in the countryside, glaring economic inequalities, strong national revendications, and deep political instability. The majority of the bourgeoisie is closely linked to the Catholic Church, openly despises the people and does not seek to hide it under a layer of progressivism. In opposition, the labor movement developed mainly on an anarcho-syndicalist and anarchist basis. In particular, the contradictions in Spanish society led to reactionary uprising and then to the civil war of 1936-1939, which saw the intervention of fascist powers, and of Mexico and the USSR. Basques and Catalans mobilized alongside the Second Republic, hoping to obtain national independence, or at least some autonomous status and liberties.
The defeat of the Republic temporarily silenced national aspirations. The anarcho-syndicalist and anarchist movement was swept aside, the Communists plunged into clandestinity, and the bourgeoisie crushed the proletariat. The democratic transition begun after Franco’s death in 1975 merely repainted the facade of the old authoritarian and nationalist state: despite the parliamentary form of the state, Spain has some of the most repressive laws in Europe. The torture of revolutionary and independence activists is common, and it is still not possible to openly criticize the monarchy.
But let us come back to the current situation. Who leads the independence movement in Catalonia? The direction of the movement is clearly in the Catalan bourgeoisie’s hands. In terms of class, part of the proletariat and of the bourgeoisie, and the majority of the petit bourgeoisie are of Catalan culture. However, “the very rich and the very poor are Spanish”: the big bourgeoisie, like the most precarious proletarians who migrate to Barcelona and the industrial zones to try their luck, are closer to Spanish culture.
At the last Diada (National Day of Catalonia), the national holiday became a protest for independence and brought together a million people. For a decade, the quick economic development of Catalonia encouraged the Catalan small and middle bourgeoisie to openly support the movement for independance. To simplify, let us say: for the bourgeois, it is more advantageous to keep all taxes in Catalonia than to pay them to Madrid. Catalonia still accounts for 20% of Spain’s GDP, 30% of its exports and 50% of its high-value-added activity! There is a reactionary idea that “the Catalans” should not have to sacrifice for the rest the Spanish population. However, should the Catalan movement be rejected as a whole? No. It is a national struggle with a progressive characteristic (independence from an imperialist state). But thisis not a revultionary struggle. National oppression targets the people, but also the nation as a whole.
Revolutionaries of the French State must follow the situation closely. It is a potentially explosive situation in Spain and could have very important consequences at the European level, leading to a domino effect in the Basque Country and elsewhere, for example in Scotland and Northern Ireland.It is clear that Madrid did not believe that the situation would worsen to this extent. The Conservatives believed that they were entering into a simple economic bargain with the Catalan bourgeoisie, whose participation in the independence vote they presumed was an engineered spectacle to mobilize its electoral base.
But the Spanish bourgeois, whether conservative or socialist, neglected a factor: driven by its base, disappointed by the decline of the Generalitat against the Conservatives, the Catalan bourgeoisie went farther than expected. It can still give up the independence project and get away with it by doing what the bourgeois politicians do best, that is, by theatrics. They may argue that threats (a Spanish army general suggested that they would defend the constitutional order “by any means”) and repression prevent them from holding the referendum because of the ballot seizures and subpoens, websites closures, and trials and financial oversight of the Generalitat.
But Madrid plays a very dangerous game. Civil disobedience is massive in Catalonia. There have been large student demonstrations in recent days, many schools are occupied, and unions have given notice of a general strike starting from October 1 if the referendum was prevented fromgoing forward. If the local police forces, the Mossos, still obey Madrid, the administration will disobey openly. Searches of public buildings have shocked the public. And the trials of the Catalan leaders can push the masses to go for broke. Here we are faced with a situation of double or nothing: either the government temporarily crushes the independentist movement, or it radicalizes it and loses its ability to face popular pressure.
In any case, the next few weeks will be decisive. Thus, our Party takes the following positions:
We recognize the definition of a nation as a stable, historically constituted community born on the basis of a community of language, territory, economic life and psychic formation that is reflected in a community of culture.
The Spanish State used and continues to use force against the Catalan nation to prevent it from seceding. We support the Catalan nation’s right to self-determination. If the Catalan nation feel the necessity to secede and thus create an independent state, it is because it feels oppressed by the Spanish state. We must support it right to self-determination.
Comrade Lenin teaches us that, “The principle of nationality is historically inevitable in bourgeois society and, taking this society into due account, the Marxist fully recognises the historical legitimacy of national movements. But to prevent this recognition from becoming an apologia of nationalism, it must be strictly limited to what is progressive in such movements, in order that this recognition may not lead to bourgeois ideology obscuring proletarian consciousness.” (Critical Notes on the National Question, 1913)
The bourgeois nationalism of every oppressed nation possesses democratic content directed against oppression – this is what we support. On the other hand, we do not support the content aimed at strengthening the nationalism and privileges of the national bourgeoisie and which breaks the class consciousness of the proletariat by obscuring class distinctions between bourgeois, petty-bourgeois and proletarian.
“On the plea that its demands are “practical”, the bourgeoisie of the oppressed nations will call upon the proletariat to support its aspirations unconditionally…The proletariat is opposed to such practicality. While recognizing equality and equal rights to a national state, it values above all and places foremost the alliance of the proletarians of all countries, and assesses any national demand, any national separation, from the angle of the workers’ class struggle. To the workers the important thing is to distinguish the principles of the two trends. Insofar as the bourgeoisie of the oppressed nation fights the oppressor, we are always, in every case, and more strongly than anyone else, in favour, for we are the staunchest and the most consistent enemies of oppression. But insofar as the bourgeoisie of the oppressed nation stands for its own bourgeois nationalism, we stand against.” (Lenin, quoted by Ibrahim Kaypakkaya in The National Question in Turkey, 1971)
We therefore support the right of self-determination of the Catalan nation. And we support the unity of the Catalan and Spanish proletariat against the interests of the bourgeoisie and landlords.