Spartacist South Africa No. 15
Spain Strangles Catalonia
Independence for Catalonia! Down With the EU!
For Workers Republics!
We reprint below an article originally published in
Workers Vanguard No. 1121 (3 November 2017), newspaper of the Spartacist League/U.S. Since the article was published, the Madrid government has continued its crackdown on the pro-independence movement in Catalonia. Former members of the Catalan regional government have been arrested or forced into exile, and many of them face charges of sedition and rebellion, which carry a jail term of up to 30 years. In the midst of this widespread repression, the regional elections held on 21 December 2017 resulted in a renewed majority for the pro-independence parties.
OCTOBER 30—Three days ago, the parliament of Catalonia voted to secede from Spain and establish an independent Catalan republic. Minutes later, the Spanish senate, dominated by the Castilian chauvinists of the right-wing Popular Party (PP) and of the social-democratic Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE), voted to dissolve the Catalan parliament and depose the regional government.
Madrid is officially seizing control of Catalonia, including its finances, police force and major TV and radio stations under Article 155 of the Spanish constitution, which enables the rulers of the Spanish prison house of oppressed peoples to strip autonomous communities of their powers. It has also ordered new regional elections on December 21. Catalan pro-independence deputies, including President Carles Puigdemont (of the Partit Demòcrata Europeu Català, PDeCAT) and his vice president Oriol Junqueras (of the Esquerra Republicana, ERC) have been threatened with arrest for “rebellion”, for which they could spend as long as 30 years in prison. Two prominent leaders of independentiste groups, Jordi Sànchez of the Catalan National Assembly and Jordi Cuixart of Òmnium Cultural, were imprisoned on October 16 and face trial for sedition.
The Spanish state unleashed a wave of repression in late September in an attempt to suppress the October 1 Catalan independence referendum. Over two million people cast ballots, courageously defying the thousands of vicious Guardia Civil and Policía Nacional sent by Madrid. Ninety percent voted in favor of independence. Since then, Catalonia and its largest city, Barcelona, have been rocked by huge protests demanding an end to the repression and freedom for the imprisoned independence leaders. Several chauvinist protests have also taken place, led by the neo-Francoist PP, the right-wing Ciutadans and the social-democratic Partit dels Socialistes de Catalunya (PSC), in defense of the unity of monarchical, Castile-ruled capitalist Spain. It is in the interests of the working class throughout Spain and France to defend the oppressed Catalan people, whose nation straddles the Franco-Spanish border. Policía Nacional and Guardia Civil out of Catalonia! Free Cuixart, Sànchez and all pro-independence activists! Down with the monarchy! Defend Catalan independence!
Like Catalonia, the oppressed Basque nation in Euskal Herria (the Basque Country) stretches from Spain into France. For decades, the Basques have suffered deadly repression at the hands of both the Spanish and French governments. As proletarian revolutionary internationalists, we fight for the independence of the Basque Country and Catalonia, North and South—that is, against the capitalist rulers of both France and Spain. We seek to build Leninist-Trotskyist parties that support the just struggles of oppressed nations, which can be a lever to advance the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat against the capitalist rulers. Our program is for proletarian revolution, the seizure of power by the working class. For workers republics in Catalonia and the Basque Country as parts of a voluntary Socialist United States of Europe!
For the Catalan workers and poor, the struggle for national liberation is a component part of their struggle against exploitation. The potential power of the working class was demonstrated in a small but important way by the port workers in Barcelona and Tarragona, who refused to service the ships being used to house the Policía Nacional and Guardia Civil at the time of the referendum. But Catalan workers have not been mobilized as an independent force due to their wretched reformist misleaders, who, on the whole, refuse to fight for Catalan independence. For this reason, Catalan workers are dissolved into the mass movement, and pro-independence working-class militants have nowhere to look for their liberation except to the bourgeois nationalists. It is necessary to forge a revolutionary proletarian leadership that champions the struggle for national liberation.
No Illusions in the Catalan Bourgeoisie!
Amid fears that an independent Catalonia would be kicked out of the European Union (EU), a host of Catalan companies, including two large banks, CaixaBank and Banco Sabadell, promptly seized on Madrid’s offerings and opted to register their headquarters outside Catalonia. The Catalan bourgeoisie (represented prominently by the PDeCAT and its predecessors, as well as by the ERC) has sometimes used separatism as a bargaining chip in its dealings with Madrid. But the chauvinist, vindictive humiliations inflicted by the central government, as well as pressure from the Catalan masses, have pushed the political representatives of a section of the Catalan bourgeoisie into open defiance. Puigdemont postponed declaring independence after the October 1 referendum, and even offered to hold early regional elections if PP prime minister Mariano Rajoy would guarantee that Catalonia would retain its autonomous status. But the Castilian-chauvinist Rajoy and his cohorts would have nothing less than total capitulation. Thus, the Catalan government declared independence.
Madrid has made clear that it will go to any lengths to maintain the territorial integrity of Spain, while Catalonia lacks anything resembling a state of its own—centrally, armed forces—that could resist the Spanish state. The Catalan working class, meanwhile, has given no sign of significant independent motion. Under these circumstances, there is no hope of realizing Catalan independence now. Yet Catalonia remains in turmoil. With the immediate prospect of further repression and humiliation at the hands of the Castilian overlords, combined with the impotence of the Catalan bourgeoisie, further struggles are likely to erupt—the Catalan masses are in dire need of allies.
Such allies are to be found primarily in the proletariat of Spain and France. The Spanish and French bourgeoisies are both oppressing the Catalans and Basques and exploiting the working class as a whole. The breakup of the reactionary Spanish state would open the road for workers struggle against the capitalist rulers in Madrid. A relentless struggle must be waged against the chauvinism promoted by social democrats and the labor lieutenants of capital in the trade-union bureaucracies in order to win workers in the region to the fight for self-determination of the oppressed nations.
The struggle of the Catalan people has resonated across the border with Basques and Catalans living in France. Protests in support of Catalan independence have taken place in both the north and south of Euskal Herria. In an act of solidarity by Catalans in France, the ballots for the October 1 referendum were printed in Catalunya Nord and transported across the border.
Despite the Catalan government’s constant appeals, the rulers of the reactionary, imperialist EU have backed Madrid’s repression to the hilt, precisely because they know that a breakup of Spain portends a breakup of the EU. European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker warned that “we need to avoid splits, because we already have enough splits and fractures”, and that the EU could not be made up of “95 different states”. The president of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, made it clear on October 22 that “no one is going to recognise Catalonia in Europe as an independent country”. The EU is an instrument for the imperialist powers of Europe, centrally Germany, to ratchet up the exploitation of the working people throughout Europe and to further impoverish weaker countries such as Greece and Portugal.
For Proletarian Political Independence!
The Rajoy government’s repression, supported by its lapdogs in the PSOE, has evoked memories of the dictatorship of Generalissimo Francisco Franco and its savage suppression of Basque, Catalan and Galician national rights. PP spokesman Pablo Casado didn’t hesitate to invoke this bloody history when he warned Puigdemont not to declare independence “because perhaps the person who makes the declaration will end up like the person who made the declaration 83 years ago”. This is a reference to Lluís Companys, the bourgeois-nationalist president of the Catalan Generalitat who was executed by a Francoist firing squad after the defeat of the Spanish Revolution. (See “Trotskyism vs. Popular Frontism in the Spanish Civil War”, Spartacist [English-language edition] No. 61, Spring 2009.)
The reality is that the repression being meted out today is fully in keeping with the legal framework of Spanish bourgeois democracy. The oppression of the Basque, Catalan and Galician nations was enshrined in the 1978 post-Franco constitution, which maintains that Spain cannot be divided. The two historic parties of the Spanish working class, the PSOE and the Communist Party (PCE), supported the formation of a monarchical state based on the denial of the right to self-determination of the oppressed nations of Spain and voted for the 1978 constitution.
The PSOE in government loyally served the king and fomented Castilian chauvinism for decades, notoriously setting up death squads to murder Basque independence fighters in the 1980s. For its own part, the PCE has also maintained its disgusting opposition to independence for the oppressed. The chauvinist misleaders of the CCOO and UGT union federations bear responsibility for the fact that workers in Catalonia and Spain have not come out as an organized force in defense of independence for Catalonia and the Basque Country.
The PSOE’s Catalan counterpart, the PSC, joined with Francoists and fascists in a reactionary demonstration in Barcelona on October 8 and October 29, under slogans such as “Catalonia is Spain”. Emboldened by Rajoy’s offensive, on October 27 fascists attacked the headquarters of Catalunya Ràdio as well as a Catalan cultural center and school in Barcelona. The fascists are a deadly danger to all workers, immigrants and oppressed minorities, and the working class must be mobilized to stop them.
With the PSOE heavily discredited among working people for having mercilessly administered EU-dictated austerity, the bourgeois Podemos party—which issued out of the 2011 petty-bourgeois Indignados movement—has taken up the task of refurbishing Spanish bourgeois democracy. Podemos has mobilized protests in opposition to Rajoy’s repression against Catalonia. But Podemos is firmly opposed to Catalan independence and merely provides brutal Castilian chauvinism with a “human face”: an October 23 letter to its membership decried any declaration of Catalan independence as “illegitimate”. Podemos advises the Spanish bourgeoisie to “ensure that Catalonia remains a part of Spain” with the carrot of greater democracy, rather than the stick of repression. Podemos has moved to strip the leadership of its Catalan organization (Podem) of its authority for not being hard enough against independence.
A more left-appearing Catalan bourgeois-nationalist party is the Candidatura d’Unitat Popular (CUP). Although the CUP claims to be socialist, in fact it is a party based on the petty bourgeoisie. It propped up the regional capitalist government for more than a year. The affiliate of the British Socialist Workers Party in Catalonia, En Lluita, liquidated completely into the CUP last year. These opportunists had no trouble simultaneously building the pro-independence CUP in Catalonia, while building the anti-independence Podemos in other parts of Spain, i.e., capitulating to one bourgeois nationalism or another.
No such confusion afflicts the fake-Trotskyist Internationalist Group (IG), which capitulates entirely to Castilian chauvinism. In their article “Defend the Right to Self-Determination and Independence for Catalonia” (September 2017) they do anything but defend Catalan independence. The IG denigrates the Catalan people’s just struggle for national liberation, sneering: “This is a nationalist movement led by the richest bourgeoisie in Spain” and “The impulse for independence comes above all from powerful sectors of the well-to-do Catalan bourgeoisie.” You’d think the IG had taken a page from the Francoist newspaper ABC, which wrote that the “Catalanist revolt against the state is a performance of the rich, by the rich and for the rich” (4 June).
These petty-bourgeois professors in the U.S. urged Catalans to battle their way to the polling stations on October 1—defying police truncheons, rubber bullets and tear gas—to “cast a blank ballot”! Dripping with contempt for the oppressed Catalans, the IG rants: “It’s not like some national liberation movement in a semi-colonial country.” The IG’s counterposition between national liberation struggles in the backward and advanced countries reveals their fundamentally Third World nationalist perspective. Further, the IG argues that Catalonia’s separation from Spain “could seriously undercut the potential for united struggle of the working class throughout the peninsula” (“Mass Resistance to Police Repression in Catalonia”, 4 October).
It is Madrid’s national oppression of Catalans, Basques and Galicians that has undercut the unity of the working classes in the artificial Spanish state. This unity can only be achieved by boldly championing the liberation of the oppressed nations—the opposite of the IG’s left-talking chauvinism, which blames the oppressed Catalans for dividing the working class, rather than the Castilian bourgeoisie and its reformist lackeys.
Bolshevik leader V.I. Lenin emphasized that achieving proletarian unity requires breaking the chains binding an oppressed nation to its oppressor. He used as an example Norway, which gained independence from Sweden following a 1905 referendum:
“The close alliance between the Norwegian and Swedish workers, their complete fraternal class solidarity, gained from the Swedish workers’ recognition of the right of the Norwegians to secede. This convinced the Norwegian workers that the Swedish workers were not infected with Swedish nationalism, and that they placed fraternity with the Norwegian proletarians above the privileges of the Swedish bourgeoisie and aristocracy. The dissolution of the ties imposed upon Norway by the monarchs of Europe and the Swedish aristocracy strengthened the ties between the Norwegian and Swedish workers.”
—“The Right of Nations to Self-Determination” (1914)
As explained in the current issue of our international theoretical journal, Spartacist (No. 65, Summer 2017), Lenin’s steadfast defense of the right of self-determination and implacable opposition to Great Russian chauvinism were crucial in forging the Bolshevik Party. It was Lenin’s revolutionary internationalist program that allowed the Bolsheviks to lead the working class to power 100 years ago. Today, the ICL upholds Leninism on the national question as part of our struggle for new October Revolutions.