Australasian Spartacist No. 232
Independence for Catalonia and the Basque Country! For Workers Republics!
For Class Struggle Against Spanish Prison House of Peoples!
The following article is a translation of an April supplement issued by the Grupo Espartaquista de México, section of the International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist), and distributed on May Day in Barcelona. Since this article was written the Catalan regional government of Carles Puigdemont has asserted its determination to hold a binding referendum on independence on 1 October. In response the Spanish government under PM Mariano Rajoy has declared the referendum “illegal” and announced its intention to stop it using all means available. Implied threats of military action stoke bitter memories of the brutal repression meted out under military dictator Generalissimo Franco. That the Castilian-chauvinist Spanish state cannot even allow the Catalan people to express their deep-felt desire for independence, only underlines why the Catalan and Basque people need to be free of Spanish domination.
Braving the winter chill of a Monday morning, 40,000 demonstrators turned out in Barcelona to march with Artur Màs and two codefendants at the start of their trial in February. They were facing charges for defying Spain’s Constitutional Court by promoting independence for Catalonia. The February 6 march was full of estelades, the Catalan flag—inspired by the Cuban and Puerto Rican flags—which was banned from being displayed on city council buildings in Catalonia by the conservative Popular Party (PP) government of Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy. Even the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) outrageously fined the Blaugrana (blue-and-garnet) Barça soccer team last year because enthusiastic Barcelona fans waved estelades at a UEFA tournament game. We demand: Madrid hands off Màs and his codefendants! Flying the estelada is not a crime!
The Spanish state’s intensification of anti-Catalan repression has set off massive protests in Catalonia in favor of independence. In 2010, a million and a half people poured into the streets of central Barcelona to protest against the overturn of key articles of Catalonia’s autonomy statute. This past September, over a million pro-independence demonstrators once again took to the streets of the region on the Diada [The National Day of Catalonia].
Eighty years ago, Barcelona was the center of the Spanish Revolution and Civil War. As we noted in “Trotskyism vs. Popular Frontism in the Spanish Civil War” (Spartacist [English-language edition] No. 61, Spring 2009): “The Barcelona May Days of 1937 marked the high point of a decade of revolution and counterrevolution in Spain that began with the fall of the Primo de Rivera military dictatorship in 1930 and the monarchy a year later and ended with the crushing of the Republic by General Francisco Franco in 1939.” Catalan workers were in the vanguard of the struggle for socialist revolution, but decades of bloody repression under Franco pushed the national question to the fore in both Catalonia and the Basque Country.
Catalans and Basques are today engaged in a struggle for national liberation from the capitalist state of Spain. For decades, the PP of Mariano Rajoy has taken turns with the equally chauvinist social democrats of the PSOE (Spanish Socialist Workers Party) in administering capitalist rule. Currently, the PP is part of a minority government that has managed to stay in power by wielding the longstanding agreement among all major parties to hold the Basque and Catalan minority nations forcibly within the borders of Spain. Such is the fundamental content of the chauvinist, anti-democratic Spanish constitution of 1978, which established the monarchy as bonapartist overlord. The struggle for the liberation of the oppressed nations is in the interest of the proletariat! Every blow struck against the chauvinism of the Spanish bourgeois state would benefit workers everywhere!
The Catalan and Basque nations extend to the north, across the border with France, where the chauvinist French state also keeps them forcibly oppressed without any [national] rights. The motor force of the movement for independence comes from the south. If the Basques and/or Catalans obtained independence from Spain, it is very likely that their conationals on the French side would follow them. In any case, we defend the right of self-determination of the Basque and Catalan Northern provinces.
Language is a central element in the national identity of Catalans and Basques. The chauvinist Castilian rulers have tried time and again to exterminate the Catalan and Basque languages and impose Spanish, the language of the oppressor. From the late 1930s to the late 1970s, ferocious Francoist repression meant that if you were Catalan or Basque, the simple act of speaking your own language in public could land you in jail. Catalan schoolchildren were instructed by nuns to “speak Christian,” that is, castellà (Castilian, aka Spanish), as it is called by Catalans. The fact that both the Catalan and Basque languages have survived centuries of domination by Castile is evidence of the desire of these peoples to exist as distinct nations and of their success in assimilating immigrants into their societies.
The “Constitution of ’78” laid the basis for limited regional self-rule. A few years after Catalonia managed to wrest a few autonomy rights from Madrid, the regional government began to introduce Catalan as the language of instruction in public schools at all levels. Today over ten million people, including 38,000 in France, speak Catalan, roughly the same amount of speakers as Swedish or Greek.
In 2010, the Spanish Constitutional Court gutted a 2006 Catalan autonomy Estatut [Statute]. It ruled, among other things, that Catalonia is part of “the one and indivisible Spanish nation” and declared that Catalan could not be the “preferred language” in Catalan administration, media and public schooling. This past November the Constitutional Court acquired new enforcement power—for example, to reinstitute Spanish as the language of instruction in public education. Since 2010, Madrid has increasingly imposed the use of Spanish in all areas of daily life. Penalties for failing to provide a Spanish-language label on a commercial product in Catalonia can run from 15,000 to 1.2 million euros. In 2016 alone, some 64 new regulations were introduced requiring the use of Spanish in Catalonia, subjecting daily life to a whole series of instances of language repression. The question of language is also very important in France, where Basques and Catalans have absolutely no national or linguistic rights. For the right of all Basques and Catalans to study in their own languages! No privileges for Spanish or French!
No Faith in Catalan Bourgeoisie!
Rajoy and his PP backers have increasingly used the Madrid-dominated court system against Catalan independentistes. In November, the Constitutional Court granted itself the power to suspend public officials—that is, Catalans—without a hearing. Currently, more than 400 Catalan government functionaries, mayors and municipal councillors face charges in various courts. Although his sentence is on hold pending appeal, Artur Màs was found guilty, fined 36,500 euros and barred from seeking public office for two years. The Constitutional Court ruled that Artur Màs “disobeyed” its ban on convoking a 2014 independence referendum, which was conducted while he was president of the regional Generalitat government of Catalonia—a referendum in which nearly 90 percent voted for independence for Catalonia! Madrid has also charged Carme Forcadell, speaker of the Generalitat’s Parlament, with the “crime” of allowing debate on a proposal for a second independence referendum, a proposal endorsed by the majority of representatives in the Parlament and by current Generalitat president Carles Puigdemont. In February, the Constitutional Court annulled a resolution by the Parlament to convoke the referendum in 2017.
Rajoy’s government recently announced that it would prefer to seal off the public schools in Catalonia rather than permit their use as polling places in the event the Generalitat tries to hold the referendum. This was followed by an ominous threat to use the Spanish constitution to revoke what remains of the Generalitat’s autonomy powers.
Catalonia produces more than 25 percent of Spain’s exports, with a per capita GDP of 28,900 euros in 2015. The Basque Country has the highest GDP per capita in Spain, with 30,500 euros, and produces 8.8 percent of exports. The Spanish ruling class knows full well that its small prison house of peoples would be reduced to practically nothing without its two most profitable regions, and hence will not permit a peaceful secession of Catalonia and the Basque Country. It’s clear that as the clash between Catalonia and Spain intensifies, a military intervention by the vicious overlord against the oppressed nation could be posed. Such a showdown would immediately push antagonistic class interests to the fore. Only the working class, mobilized independently at the head of all the poor and oppressed, has the social power to fight for the sovereignty of the minority nations against Madrid’s hardline chauvinism.
But, in fear of the insurgent proletariat, the significant section of the Catalan bourgeoisie that prefers national independence would throw themselves unhesitatingly into the arms of their Madrid counterparts. Ultimately, the capitalist rulers of both the great-power and minority nations will unite in defense of their class privileges against those whom they exploit for profit—the workers of Spain, Catalonia and the Basque Country alike. It would be suicidal for the Catalan proletariat and oppressed to rely on the Catalan bourgeoisie in the fight for national liberation.
We call on all opponents of national oppression to defend the pro-Catalan independence CUP (Popular Unity Candidacy) against repression from the Spanish state. A number of the 16 CUP mayors and 372 CUP city council members who hold office in Catalan municipalities face trial for flying the estelada from town halls and for opening city offices on official Spanish state holidays. Five CUP members have been accused of the medieval-era crime of “insulting the king” for burning photos of Spain’s King Felipe VI during last year’s Diada! Since then, the CUP has been targeted by a PP criminalization campaign intended to drive away its supporters.
The well-known Basque separatist Arnaldo Otegi was freed last year after six and a half years in prison for his leading role in attempting to refound the banned left-nationalist Batasuna party. Prohibited from running for public office, Otegi had also been found guilty of insulting the Spanish king. His one-year sentence was later commuted after no less than the European Union’s Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg gingerly declared that his penalty was “disproportionate” to the crime. Under the current Spanish penal code, anyone who “slanders or insults the King or Queen or any of their ancestors or descendants” will be sentenced to six months to two years in prison. And now, any supposed “threat” against the monarch constitutes terrorism. For example, Valtonyc, a rapper from the island of Mallorca, was recently accused of insulting the king and inciting terrorism, and has outrageously been sent to prison for three and a half years. Down with the Spanish monarchy and its bonapartist powers of government!
Laws against insulting the monarchy only serve to strengthen Spain’s repressive bourgeois state apparatus, aimed first and foremost against the proletariat. Draconian “anti-terrorism” laws have been harshly and relentlessly used against pro-independence Basques. Herri Batasuna’s founding leader was brutally assassinated in 1984 by a GAL (Antiterrorist Liberation Groups) death squad formed under the direction of the post-Franco Spanish government of the PSOE’s Felipe Gonzalez.
The working class throughout Spain has a vital interest in opposing the persecution of the CUP and all pro-independence Basques and Catalans as an act of opposition to national oppression and as part of fighting to defend its own right to organize and to struggle. The CUP electoral coalition—self-avowedly, if falsely, labeled “anti-capitalist”—plays a critical role in maintaining Puigdemont at the head of the Generalitat regional government because its ten (out of 135) deputies give him the majority he requires in the Catalan Parlament. But the petty-bourgeois CUP gets no reward from the Catalan ruling class: The Generalitat endorsed the prosecution of the photo-burning cupaires [CUP supporters], stating that it is indeed a crime to burn photos of the Madrid monarch! Drop all charges against the CUP nationalists! Madrid: hands off the CUP!
Down With the EU, Enemy of National Rights!
Following the 2008 worldwide Great Recession, the European Union has imposed economic austerity on Spain in return for loans. As a result, youth unemployment in Catalonia today is a whopping 32 percent, the number of those unemployed for more than two years has alarmingly increased, and 11 percent of employed Catalan workers fall below Spain’s poverty line. Nevertheless, in the face of Madrid’s threats, Puigdemont as well as Màs—who, in fact, administered the EU’s austerity measures in Catalonia—go begging for support at the feet of their capitalist class cohorts in the EU. Following his March conviction, Màs declared, “We will appeal in Spain and then take the case to European courts, if we need to.” In mid January, Puigdemont (who rules in coalition with the bourgeois-nationalist Republican Left Party) delivered an appeal for EU support for a Catalan independence referendum at a forum held in the EU parliament building in Brussels. The hall was overflowing with...hundreds of Catalan invitees, and was snubbed by EU officials.
The EU unwaveringly backs the Spanish bourgeois state, notwithstanding the false hopes of the Catalan bourgeoisie. [German chancellor Angela] Merkel herself made that clear back in 2015 when she declared her position on Catalonia to be “very similar” to Rajoy’s. The EU is a deadly enemy of the national rights of the oppressed. Just ask any immiserated Greek worker who has necessarily been a firsthand witness to the EU strangulation of Greek national sovereignty. We say: Down with the euro and the EU! The EU is an unstable consortium of capitalist countries that works to increase profits by squeezing the workers throughout Europe, while its dominant members—Germany and, to a lesser extent, France and Britain—use it to further subordinate the weaker, dependent European countries. Freedom from the Spanish yoke lies in the hands of the multiracial, multiethnic proletariat of Catalonia against the European Union.
Spanish dock workers pointed the way forward when they struck an initial blow against the EU and Rajoy in March. The EU’s Court of Justice declared back in 2014 that the labor situation in all ports in Spain—where stevedoring workers are unionized, including in the ports of Catalonia and the Basque Country—violated EU rules on “free enterprise” (read, free of unions). To enforce its diktats, the EU imposed 23 million euros in fines on Spain and then in March added a daily penalty of 134,000 euros for noncompliance. The Rajoy government issued a decree to force harsh conditions of compliance with EU rules upon this strategic union workforce, which handles 80 percent of Spain’s imports and about 65 percent of its exports. In response, the Spanish port workers union Coordinadora Estatal de Trabajadores del Mar (CETM) began mobilizing for nationwide port strikes in February and March with widely publicized plans for solidarity actions by other longshore unions around the world. Faced with the port strikes, a majority of members of the Spanish Congress refused to approve the union-busting decree and handed Rajoy’s minority government a stinging defeat, the first time a government decree has been voted down by Congress since 1979!
The battle is not over. The EU’s aim is to eliminate union labor from the ports and slash wages, and the punitive fines against Spain are accumulating to enforce this diktat. The port workers’ struggle underlines the nature of the EU as an imperialist cartel bent on imposing ever-greater exploitation on the European working class. Union dockers in many EU countries are today fighting parallel attempts to consign shipboard lashing work to cruelly exploited and non-union seamen from the Third World. Harbor workers in Germany and some of the other EU countries whose ports also violate EU “free enterprise” regulations may soon confront EU-led attacks on their unions, especially if these regulations succeed in Spain.
The Spanish dockers are waging a fight that is crucial to the entire European proletariat. Victory requires a fight against the union bureaucrats who are capitulating to the EU’s leaders. Thus, the International Dockworkers Council federation headquartered in Spain calls “for complying with the ruling of the European Court of Justice.” The other labor lieutenants of capital in the workers movement who lead the hegemonic CETM port union are willing to betray the existence of the union in exchange for job and pension protection for the current workforce. CETM head Antolin Goya emphasizes that “the continued employment of the current port workers” is one of the “issues that the new code should regulate.” Port workers of Europe: It is urgently necessary to wield your mighty social power against the EU and Spanish government attack on the CETM and all the unionized dockers of Spain!
Populists and Social-Chauvinists Oppose Catalan Independence
The upstart bourgeois Podemos [“We Can”] is a party of Castilian chauvinists in the guise of “anti-establishment” populism. Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias has called for a referendum on Catalan independence to be conducted throughout Spain, which would only mean condemning the Catalan nation to continued oppression by Madrid. The bulk of the Spanish left shares this chauvinist outlook, such as the Spanish Communist Party, now a lesser partner in the “Unidos Podemos” [“United We Can”] electoral bloc with Podemos, as well as the several and various Stalinist splits and offspring of the Communist Party. (See, in Spanish, “Primero de Mayo en Barcelona—Trotskismo vs. reformismo sobre la cuestión nacional,” Espartaco No. 46, October 2016.)
This chauvinist outlook is also shared by the fake Trotskyists of Izquierda Revolucionaria (Revolutionary Left), followers of the late British pseudo-Trotskyist Ted Grant, who have recently signed a unity statement with Peter Taaffe’s Committee for a Workers’ International, which is affiliated with Socialist Alternative in the U.S. Their constant pledges to fight “for the right of self-determination” of Catalonia and the Basque Country notwithstanding, Izquierda Revolucionaria is actually opposed to the independence of the oppressed nations of Spain. Thus, in a 2014 pamphlet (“¡Por el derecho a la autodeterminación, por el socialismo!”) devoted to the national question in Catalonia, the Spanish Grantites declared: “The task of the workers movement, there as here, in Euskal Herria and Catalunya, in the Spanish state as a whole and in Europe, is not to build new states and erect new borders, but to build socialism on a global scale.” Behind this sweet talk of “socialism” is a chauvinist program.
Genuine Trotskyists are for independence here and now, without making the socialist revolution a precondition, while understanding that the struggle for national liberation is a motor force in the fight for workers rule. Not so Izquierda Revolucionaria, which counterposes to the call for independence for Catalonia and the Basque Country the call for a “Federal Socialist Republic” of Spain! So much for “self-determination”! And what could the arch-reformist Izquierda Revolucionaria possibly mean by “socialism”? While they spill much ink preaching “class independence” vis-à-vis the Catalan bourgeoisie, to them the bourgeois populist and chauvinist Podemos is nothing less than a lever “for socialist transformation”! (El Militante online, 3 February).
The U.S.-based Internationalist Group (IG) acts as a tool of the Castilian bourgeoisie. The IG in fact supports the national oppression of Catalans, without even pretending to support the right of self-determination. Arguing for the sacred unity of Spain, the IG wrote:
“But not only is Catalonia the richest part of Spain, whose bourgeoisie wishes to stop subsidizing poorer southern regions; not only would independence mean separating off one of the most militant sections of the working class; but much if not most of the industrial workers do not speak Catalan, many coming from Andalucía.”
—“For a Scottish Workers Republic in a Socialist Federation of the British Isles” (September 2014)
The IG concludes that it’s Catalan independence that would “discriminate” against Spaniards! The oppression of an entire nation by the Castilian bourgeoisie is not a concern for these “Grandees of Spain.” According to the IG, on account of its historic class-consciousness and militancy, the Catalan proletariat has foresworn any right to ever fight to liberate itself from the Castilian yoke. The IG implicitly supports the privileges of castellà and ignorantly denies the fact that the majority of workers in Catalonia speak Catalan, while in passing portraying Catalans as cheap and racist—the current chauvinist propaganda of the PP.
The independence of Catalonia would greatly advance the struggle for independence of the Basque Country, and that of their respective conationals on the other side of the French border. It would shake up monarchial Spain, whose unity the IG respects so much, and would strike a blow against the EU imperialist consortium, which the IG also respects very much.
In determined opposition to the vile great-power chauvinism of such pretenders to Trotskyism and on the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution led by Leon Trotsky and V.I. Lenin, the International Communist League again emphasizes the class-struggle perspective that was key to the October 1917 victory of the workers in the Russian prison house of peoples:
“The Marxist solution of the problem of democracy is for the proletariat to utilise all democratic institutions and aspirations in its class struggle against the bourgeoisie in order to prepare for its overthrow and assure its own victory....
“In our civil war against the bourgeoisie, we shall unite and merge the nations not by the force of the ruble, not by the force of the truncheon, not by violence, but by voluntary agreement and solidarity of the working people against the exploiters. For the bourgeoisie the proclamation of equal rights for all nations has become a deception. For us it will be the truth that will facilitate and accelerate the winning over of all nations. Without effectively organised democratic relations between nations—and, consequently, without freedom of secession—civil war of the workers and working people generally of all nations against the bourgeoisie is impossible.”
—V.I. Lenin, “Reply to P. Kievsky (Y. Pyatakov)” (August-September 1916)