Workers Vanguard No. 1119
6 October 2017
Catalan Masses Defy Spanish State
Policía Nacional, Guardia Civil Out of Catalonia!
For a Catalan Workers Republic!
OCTOBER 3—Two days ago, the Spanish state unleashed massive repression aimed at preventing an independence referendum in Catalonia. Over two million people defied the savage police mobilization to cast their ballots, and 90 percent voted in favor of an independent republic in Catalonia.
The Castilian rulers of the capitalist Spanish state will brook no opposition to the sacrosanct unity of the Spanish prison house of peoples, which denies the right of self-determination to the Catalan, Basque and Galician nations. The state of siege imposed by Madrid is a powerful confirmation that the national oppression of Catalans—and of the Basques—cannot end short of independence. Autonomy is a fraud—Madrid retains the whip hand. The only principled position for revolutionary Marxists is to demand the immediate independence of these nations and to rally the workers of Spain and Europe to this struggle.
In the lead-up to the vote, the Castilian chauvinists who rule the country from Madrid declared the referendum illegal, with the full backing of the European Union. Thousands of Policía Nacional (National Police) and paramilitary Guardia Civil (Civil Guard) cops were sent to suppress any move toward self-determination by the oppressed Catalan people. The Catalan government’s funds were seized, many of its leaders arrested and offices raided. Millions of ballots, posters and official ballot boxes were confiscated. Tens of thousands of protesters who took to the streets are threatened with sedition charges. Hundreds of websites promoting the referendum were taken down by the Spanish authorities, including those of the Catalan government. Anyone deemed responsible for conducting the referendum is facing jail time and massive fines.
Thousands occupied schools overnight and massed before dawn to ensure the referendum went ahead. As the polls opened, riot cops smashed their way into polling stations, beating voters, dragging them out into the street and seizing ballot boxes. People outside were hit with rubber bullets, tear gas and police clubs. Nearly 900 people were injured.
Despite the police terror tactics, the Catalan people remain unbowed. As we go to press, a “national stoppage” called by the Catalan government, business associations and unions to protest the repression has brought Catalonia to a halt. It is urgent for the working class in Catalonia and throughout Spain to rally in defense of Catalan national rights. Working people throughout Spain must demand: Drop all charges against independentistes! Guardia Civil and Policía Nacional out of Catalonia!
The brutality unleashed by the Spanish government against the people of Catalonia is reminiscent of the long years of the Franco dictatorship. The Catalans and the republican Basques played a vanguard role in the Spanish Revolution of the 1930s. But the triumph of counterrevolution in 1939 under Generalissimo Francisco Franco resulted in decades of bloody repression of the working class and of the Catalan and Basque nations. Thus, after Franco died in 1975, the struggles of the oppressed nations were mainly expressed along national lines, in contrast to the 1930s, when the working classes of these same nations fought directly for power.
Spain’s right-wing governing Partido Popular (Popular Party) is descended from the Franco regime. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy declares that the Catalan independence referendum violated the 1978 Spanish constitution. Maintaining the unity of the Spanish state is central to the chauvinist, anti-democratic constitution of 1978, which established the monarchy as bonapartist overlord. The social-democratic Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE) and Stalinist Partido Comunista de España (PCE, now buried in Izquierda Unida) criminally supported the establishment of this reactionary constitution while mouthing platitudes about “self-determination.” To maintain the “indivisibility” of Spain, bloody police-state repression has long been used against militant fighters for Basque independence, including by PSOE governments.
Tens of thousands have rallied in Euskal Herria (Basque Country) in support of the Catalan referendum, and the Basque independence movement has been given a boost by the developments in Catalonia. The Basque and Catalan nations, each of which straddles the border between France and Spain, are oppressed by both these capitalist states. Solidarity protests have also taken place in the Catalan and Basque regions of France.
As we wrote in the document of the ICL’s most recent International Conference, “The fate of the provinces forcibly retained within France strongly depends on what will happen on the Spanish side of the border. We call for the independence of the Basque Country and Catalonia, in the North and the South” (“The Struggle Against the Chauvinist Hydra,” Spartacist [English-language edition] No. 65, Summer 2017).
Workers Must Fight for National Liberation
The struggle for the liberation of the oppressed nations can be a powerful motor force for revolutionary struggle of the proletariat against the Spanish capitalist order. But the central leadership of the countrywide trade-union federations, headquartered in Madrid, is imbued with the putrid anti-Basque and anti-Catalan chauvinism of its own capitalist rulers. Thus, the day after the Catalan people voted for independence, the national leaderships of the two largest trade-union confederations in Spain, the Comisiones Obreras (CCOO) and Unión General de Trabajadores (UGT), issued a statement opposing any “Unilateral Declaration of Independence.” They wrote: “We do not endorse that position nor that political strategy.”
Such chauvinism is not only an obstacle to the struggle for liberation of the oppressed nationalities, but also undermines struggle by all workers in the Spanish prison house of peoples against their own capitalist exploiters. The Madrid government’s offensive against Catalonia has emboldened the Spanish fascists, who have held demonstrations under the call “Catalonia is Spain.” These forces represent a deadly threat to all workers, immigrants and oppressed minorities in Spain, and the working class must mobilize to stop them.
In Catalonia in recent weeks, hundreds of thousands have defied the Castilian rulers, their constitution, courts and cops—the so-called democratic order. Secondary and university students went on strike, while farmers drove their tractors into the cities and formed blockades to protect voters. But most significant were the actions carried out by unions in defense of the referendum. The port workers in Barcelona and Tarragona refused to service the ships being used to accommodate the Policía Nacional and Guardia Civil. The firefighters union also took action, forming security cordons around voting sites.
The working class has enormous potential social power that must be marshalled in support of the struggle for independence. It is absolutely necessary to defend Catalonia’s bourgeois pro-independence leaders against the repression from Madrid. However, workers must be politically independent from these capitalist politicians and their parties. These include not only the bourgeois nationalists of the Partit Demòcrata Europeu Català (PDeCAT) and of the Esquerra Republicana (ERC), but also the left nationalists of the Candidatura d’Unitat Popular (CUP). Although claiming to be socialist, the CUP is a petty-bourgeois party that has propped up the bourgeois government of PDeCAT and the ERC in the Generalitat (Catalan parliament).
For the Catalan bourgeoisie, independence means being able to rule over those whom they exploit for profit. They will deploy their own forces of capitalist repression, such as the Mossos d’Esquadra (Catalan police), against the working class. It would be suicidal for the proletariat and oppressed to rely on the Catalan bourgeoisie in the fight for national liberation. For a Catalan workers republic!
The way forward was shown by the Bolshevik Party in Russia, which won the oppressed nationalities to its banner by championing the right of national self-determination. As Leon Trotsky, leader together with V.I. Lenin of the proletarian 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, wrote:
“In order to achieve liberation and a cultural lift, the oppressed nationalities were compelled to link their fate with that of the working class. And for this they had to free themselves from the leadership of their own bourgeois and petty bourgeois parties—they had to make a long spurt forward, that is, on the road of historic development.”
—The History of the Russian Revolution (1932)
Down With the Imperialist EU!
The Catalan bourgeois nationalists have long looked to the European Union (EU) for their salvation. Following the referendum, Catalan government leader Carles Puigdemont declared: “I must appeal directly to Europe.... The European Union can no longer continue looking the other way.” In response, the European Commission made the EU’s position clear: “Yesterday’s vote in Catalonia was not legal.” It went on to reiterate that “this is an internal matter for Spain that has to be dealt with in line with the constitutional order of Spain.”
The EU is determined to keep the current European borders intact, fearful that the breakup of Spain or any other member state could bring down the whole EU house of cards. As Marxists, we are opposed on principle to the EU, which is a reactionary consortium of capitalist countries. The EU aims to increase profits by squeezing workers throughout Europe, while its dominant members—Germany and, to a lesser extent, France—use it to further subordinate the weaker European countries. Our opposition to the EU is proletarian internationalist. We fight for workers revolutions throughout the continent, culminating in a voluntary Socialist United States of Europe.
Following the global financial crisis of 2008, the EU dictated vicious austerity to Spain, while having the common euro currency deprived Spain of the option of devaluing its currency to alleviate the crisis. The then-PSOE government in Madrid willingly enforced the EU’s austerity measures. For their part, the Catalan nationalists in the Generalitat also administered brutal austerity against workers and the oppressed.
The EU has also pushed union-busting across Europe. In 2014, the EU’s Court of Justice decreed that the Spanish port unions are in violation of EU rules on “free enterprise.” The Rajoy government issued a decree to force compliance with the EU rules. In response, thousands of port workers throughout Spain, including in Catalonia and the Basque Country, waged a series of strikes earlier this year against these attempts to smash their union.
Reformist Left: Wedded to the Bourgeois Order
Sundry reformists in Spain have for years opposed independence for Catalonia, while pretending to fight for self-determination. The Corriente Revolucionaria de Trabajadores y Trabajadoras (CRT), affiliated to the neo-Morenoite Trotskyist Fraction-Fourth International, vociferously claimed to defend the “right to decide” in the referendum while openly opposing Catalan independence. They wrote: “We don’t call for a Yes vote because we are neither independentistas nor do we share the republican and constitutional process proposed by Junts pel Sí [bourgeois-nationalist parliamentary coalition] and the CUP” (izquierdadiario.es, 27 September).
The Izquierda Revolucionaria/Esquerra Revolucionària (IR/ER) of Peter Taaffe’s Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) likewise trumpeted, “The Catalan people have the right to decide!” but were careful to assure chauvinist opponents of independence that “anyone who does not support independence has the clear choice not to vote for it.” Then, on the day before millions voted for an independent Catalan republic...these consummate opportunists came out for independence.
The Taaffeites spent years inside the social-democratic PSOE and fully imbibed its national chauvinism. As recently as 2014, the IR/ER explicitly opposed independence in a pamphlet titled ¡Por el derecho a la autodeterminación, por el socialismo! (For the Right of Self-Determination, for Socialism!): “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.”
The breakup of the Castilian-chauvinist Spanish state, with its monarchy and Francoist nostalgists, would represent an enormous step forward for the struggles of all working people in Spain against the capitalist rulers. The struggle for national liberation of Catalonia and the Basque Country is integrally linked to the fight to overthrow capitalist rule throughout Spain and France. What is needed to lead the workers and oppressed in this fight are Leninist-Trotskyist vanguard parties, national sections of a reforged Fourth International. Down with the Spanish monarchy! For workers republics!