The Rights of Nations to Self-determination: Catalonia’s Referendum and the Spanish State

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06/10/2017 by socialistfight

By Gerry Downing

 What is the Marxist position on the Catalan Referendum on 1 October 2017? The police violence in Catalonia on 1 October and the political standoff between Madrid and Barcelona opens up a very dangerous situation in Spain. The reported 90% yes vote in a 43% turnout despite massive Guardia Civil disruption means the crisis will now deepen. The sight of police dragging women by the hair, the 800 injured, 2 seriously, will inflame separatist emotions. We utterly condemn this brutal state violence, which can only lead to civil war if the crisis escalates. The intransigent stances of Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and the King, Felipe IV, and Catalan President Carles Puigdemont, who has declared he is just about to make a unilateral declaration of independence, has a deadly logic.

Catalonia, Madrid, the Basque Country and the Balearics are the most prosperous regions of Spain. Catalonia makes up only 6% of the country’s territory and 16% of its population, but it accounts for a fifth of economic output, a quarter of exports and over half of new start-up investment in 2016. Measured in GDP per capita, Catalonia compares favourably with continental Europe’s most prosperous regions of Rhône-Alpes in France, Lombardy in Italy, and Baden-Württemberg in south-west Germany.

It would be economically and politically disastrous for the Spanish working class if Catalonia and/or all or any of the other regions totally separated. Anecdotally the story of a confrontation between a Catalan woman and an Andalusian woman who worked for the British First Great Western train company sums up the situation. The Catalan woman declared her right to separate from the rest of Spain. And the other Spanish woman said, “you want to take the computers away from my children’s school”. There is no evidence of big support from the rest of Spain for the separation of Catalonia, apart from the small separatist movements elsewhere.

GRP (nominal)[edit]

Spanish autonomies by gross regional product (nominal) in 2010 international dollars.[5]

# Autonomous community Int$ (MM, 2010) Comparable country
1 Catalonia 262,388  South Africa
2 Community of Madrid 252,407  Greece
3 Andalusia 189,978  Czech Republic
4 Valencian Community 135,310  Ukraine
5 Basque Country 88,692  Slovakia
6 Castile and León 75,937  Syria
7 Galicia 73,752  Syria
8 Canary Islands 54,737  Belarus
9 Castile–La Mancha 47,611  Bulgaria
10 Aragon 43,294  Tunisia
11 Region of Murcia 36,225  Lithuania
12 Balearic Islands 35,304  Costa Rica
13 Asturias 30,645  Ghana
14 Navarre 24,654  Latvia
15 Extremadura 24,130  Latvia
16 Cantabria 18,000  Paraguay
17 La Rioja 10,432  Brunei
18 Ceuta 2,194  Lesotho
19 Melilla 2,037  Sierra Leone
Total:   Spain 1,408,711  Canada

Economic consequences

As an independent republic, Catalonia would face great problems. In 1931 Trotsky posed the question in this way:

“What does the program of separatism (for Catalonia) mean? – the economic and political dismemberment of Spain, or in other words, the transformation of the Iberian Peninsula into a sort of Balkan Peninsula, with independent states divided by customs barriers, and with independent armies conducting independent Hispanic wars.” [1]

On 25 September, El País, which represents the political outlook of Social Democracy, the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (Partido Socialista Obrero Español, PSOE), analysed the Catalan bid for independence. Amongst the many things they claim as myths are ‘Spain is robbing us’, ‘we will be wealthier on our own’, and ‘we wouldn’t leave the EU’.

“In reality, there is a certain consensus that Catalonia contributes what is due according to its own capacity and its wealth, … the official budgets of the government for 2014 indicated that Catalonia was not the top net contributor (fiscal deficit of €9.892 billion, 5.02% of GDP), but the second, after Madrid (€19.205 billion, 9.8% of its GDP). While those imbalances do not strangle the growth of the most prosperous territories, their greater net contribution derives from the principle of progressive taxation (greater wealth, higher taxes), as is the case with individuals.

What’s more, the fiscal deficit compensates its trade surplus (the industrial occupation of the less-developed regions): this is the case in the EU between the north and the south. When the “net [European] contributors” have rebelled, and have demanded to pay less into the common budget, the Catalan authorities have not sided with them. It’s the same thing!

As such, the publicists of secessionism argue that, once independent, Catalonia would be much richer than it is right now. It would see its GDP rise and its levels of employment rise, and it would improve its debt levels, its pensions and its social services. But a dark scenario emerges from this position. The Economy Ministry guarantees that secession would reduce GDP by 25% to 30%, costing as much as €63 billion. A separate study from the Foreign Ministry puts the negative impact for Catalonia at nearly €37 billion, close to 19% of its GDP (Consequences of a hypothetical independence for Catalonia, 17/2/2014).

The precedent of the partition of Czechoslovakia (1993) disallows any minimizing of the commercial downturn of breakups (even when they are agreed, as that one was). From then until 2011, Czech exports to Slovakia fell from 22% to 9%, and those coming the other way from 42% to 15% (La fábrica de España, EL PAÍS, 22/11/2012). And the separation of Slovenia saw its total exports withdraw 23.5% in 1992, and 5.5% of its GDP, according a study by the Barcelona Chamber of Commerce (El sector empresarial a Catalunya i Espanya, 5/6/2014). [2]

The new republic hopes to join the EU and the Euro zone from day one, or at least pretends that it can and will whilst knowing differently. It has been made abundantly clear by banks and by leading EU politicians that this will not happen, not least because they have no intention of fuelling separatist movements in their own countries. Not to mention the intellectual and political loss the ideology of isolationism will fuel causing the inevitable rise of the right and far right in those circumstances.  

The Political Consequences of Separation

There are clearly reactionary forces in the political ascendancy in Catalonia right now. The main pro-separation forces in Catalonia are the right wing neo-liberal coalition Junts pel Sí (Together for “Yes”), whose main components are Partit Demòcrata Europeu Català (Catalan European Democratic Party; PDeCAT) and the Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (Republican Left of Catalonia; ERC) who got 62 seats of the 135-seat parliament in the 2015 election. They formed a coalition with the bogus leftist Popular Unity Candidacy (Catalan: Candidatura d’Unitat Popular, CUP), who won 10 seats. The negotiations resulted in the replacement of the austerity-wielding President Artur Mas with an almost unknown, Carles Puigdemont. He then imposed two more austerity budgets in 2016 and 2017 with the support of the leftist CUP. He was grateful for this defence of his left flank from CUP and they both sought to cover his attacks on the working class and poor by proclaimed that “no politician or court in Madrid could stop the referendum” set for 1 October 2017.

Trotsky posed the question thus in 1931:

“Are the workers and peasants of the various parties of Spain interested in the economic dismemberment of Spain? Not at all. That is why to identify the decisive struggle for the right to self-determination with propaganda for separatism means to accomplish a fatal task. Our program is for a Hispanic federation with the indispensable maintenance of economic unity. We have no intention of imposing this program upon the oppressed nationalities of Spain with the aid of the arms of the bourgeoisie. In this sense, we are sincerely for the right to self-determination. If Catalonia separates, the Communist minority of Catalonia, as well as of Spain, will have to conduct a struggle for federation.” [3]

Esquerra Revolucionària, the Spanish section of the Committee for a Workers International (CWI), has come out in strong support of the independence of Catalonia, thereby defending the left flank of the CUP. It complains bitterly that parties which are organised across Spain oppose separation. Correctly they complain about the bureaucratic imposition from Madrid and the arrests and shows of force by which the government People’s Party (Partido Popular, PP) led by Mariano Rajoy, are handling the situation.

But it notes that the PSOE and Podemos also are opposed to separation and takes them to task. Also, they point out that the regional affiliates of these parties support separation or at least far more autonomy than their mother parties; “To speak of imposition, a blow to democracy and things like this just goes to show how far removed you can become when you abandon an anti-capitalist, class-based perspective to the national question” they say. The fact that “the left” is not leading this mass movement is the reason it has not become “a social rebellion to defeat the State, the PP and its capitalist policies”:

“The only thing that has prevented (up to now) enormous social unrest that exists in Catalonia becoming part of a social rebellion to defeat the State, the PP and its capitalist policies, is that the left has declined to put itself at the head of this great movement of masses with a programme that unites the struggle for self-determination with the economic and social demands needed by the majority of the working class, youth and middle layers. The fact that the formal leadership of this struggle against the State and the PP government has been handed over to PDeCAT has allowed these reactionary bourgeois politicians to appear as martyrs of “democracy” and this has allowed them to maintain divisions amongst the working class.

The leadership of the “process” on the part of the PDeCAT, as defended by the leaders of CUP and ERC, does not assist the struggle but holds it back. Even from the point of view of defending national rights, the leaders of the PDeCAT have sought every possible excuse to postpone the referendum or not to convene it. Ultimately, it was the pressure of the movement and the prospect of them losing massively in the elections that lead them to fix a date for the referendum (with many internal divisions).” [4]

So the right wing forces are failing in their duty to lead the struggle for national liberation, only the working class can do this and the goal “a Catalan socialist republic, that puts a stop to the cuts”. And what about the rest of Spain?

“A Catalan socialist republic would generate overwhelming support among the workers of the rest of the Spanish State (who have the same enemy, the bourgeoisie, and suffer the same attacks and cuts) and in all the other countries of Europe, opening a powerful path for social transformation and the liberation of all oppressed peoples”.

Nowhere does it tell us that Catalonia is the richest province of Spain, that behind this mass mobilisation is the very backward notion; “why should we subsidise the rest of poverty-ridden Spain like Extremadura and La Mancha?”

But repression might do the trick: “But even that could change if the PP opts for mass repression: quantity can be transformed into quality and bring about a social rebellion that goes beyond the framework of the national question”. We would strongly suggest that political leadership in this constitutional crisis is needed to politically oppose the illusions of the masses in the benefits of separation and turn them back towards class-conscious solidarity with the poorer and more oppressed regions of Spain, Europe and the world. The political closeness of the CWI to the CPB/Morning Star in Britain over the Brexit crisis, their adoption of a left version of the British Road to Socialism, penned by Stalin himself in 1951, leads them to propose an independent Catalan republic, “This needs to be done around a programme that links inseparably, like two sides of the same coin, the struggle for self-determination and the struggle against capitalism. It is impossible to achieve genuine social and national liberation of Catalonia at the hands of Catalan bourgeoisie. Even if independence were achieved, a Catalan capitalist republic would mean that the cuts and attacks on the working class would continue”.

And there you have it, socialism is possible in a single province. No internationalism or no socialism for the rest of Spain or the world, just Catalonia alone!

That does not solve the question of how to handle the current situation. Of course, no support for Madrid’s oppression and physical prevention of the ballot. They are a nation with a right to self-determination. We should take Trotsky’s advocacy of a Spanish or an Iberian socialist federation as what we should fight for. But the CWI approach only strengthens the hold of the capitalist class in both Madrid and Barcelona over this movement.

And look how super revolutionary they pose, they even advocate a version of a Trotskyist Permanent Revolution programme for Catalonia alone by tying the social to the national question together, ignoring that it is a mass movement for privilege. But when it comes to challenging the dominant imperialist capitalist nations in Ireland, in Palestine, in the Malvinas, in Libya, Syria, Ukraine etc., i.e. when oppressed or semi colonial nations face them down, the CWI use all sorts of dodgy workerist arguments to deny them the oppressed the unconditional but critical support Marxism demands in these circumstances.

The Jacobin and International Viewpoint

Another current claiming the mantle of Marxism is the New York­-based The Jacobin magazine, which has become enormously popular in recent rears among left wing intellectuals in the USA and the English-speaking world in general. Max Strasser, writing in the New Statesman, suggested that the journal claims the mantle of Marxist thought of Ralph Miliband (Stalinist father of David and Ed, former leader of the British Labour party) and a similar vein of democratic socialism”. An article in The JacobinCatalonia’s Decision, on 2 October by Josep María Antentas, who is a professor of sociology at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, was reprinted by the International Viewpoint, the journal of the Mandel USFI which thereby endorsed his political line.[5]

It is a popular frontist support for the Catalan bourgeoisie, the same political mistake committed by the leadership of the POUM and the Anarchist CNT in the Second Republic, so clearly spelled out by Trotsky in his conflict with the POUM leaders Andreas Nin and Joaquim Maurín. To emphasise the rejection of Trotskyism Antentas quotes Maurín, who was a right-Bolshevik supporter of the Russian peasant-socialist Nicholai Bukharin:

“This mistake repeats across the entirety of Spain as well. The Spanish left has never successfully understood the Catalan national question nor has it articulated the movement strategically within its own project to transform Spain. This failure has been obvious at several critical moments in Spanish history, including the establishment of the Spanish Second Republic on April 14, 1931.

The Catalan question was one of this process’s main controversies, and the procedure to approve the Catalan Statute of Autonomy — which the Spanish Parliament voted to approve on September 9, 1932 — was turbulent. The Second Republic’s constitution, which called for an “integral Republic” that remained “compatible with the autonomy of Villages and Regions,” clashed with Catalan demands.

As Joaquim Maurín, the main theorist of the heterodox Worker’s Party of Marxist Unification (POUM), wrote “the Republic was not federal but integral, a euphemism of unitary.” He meant that the new state not only failed to satisfy the Catalanist demands, but it also weakened its own capacity to break with the old monarchic centralist state that could have been smashed if the Republic had been federal.”

In 1935 Maurín fused his Workers and Peasants Bloc with the Trotskyist Communist Left of Spain (Izquierda Comunista de España, ICE) to form the POUM. We must suppose he made this statement before he became a leader of the POUM. Leon Trotsky broke with Andreu Nin (1936–37) and the ICE over this unprincipled fusion, which failed to defend the political independence of the working class by capitulating to popular frontism. The Popular Front was a rightist degeneration of Stalinism, officially adopted by the Comintern in 1935 at its 7th and last Congress. Stalinism was devastated by the lunatic third period ultra-leftism of 1928-35, where every other political tendency in the workers movement were “social-fascists” and the liberal bourgeoisie was also “liberal-fascists”. This disastrous splitting of the working-class movement, where the Communist party of Germany (KPD) designated the bourgeois worker party, the Socialist Party (SPD) as the main enemy, resulted in the victory of Hitler in January 1933 without a shot being fired by the KPD.

Stalin’s man, Georgi Dimitrov, now explicitly abandoned class politics by allying with the liberal bourgeoisie, and the “democratic imperialists” to reject the Leninist-Bolshevik programme of socialist revolution as outlined in the April Theses and as won in the great October Revolution, for the stageist perspective of first defeat fascism and later – in practice never – the socialist revolution. In fact, the social revolution is only possible in moments of acute political and economic crisis such as developed in Spain in the middle 1930s and may now be developing again in Spain and internationally today.

Caught behind the lines Maurín was murdered by the fascists in 1936. Nin was tortured and murdered by the Stalinist GPU after they crushed the revolution by defeating the May Days uprising in Barcelona in 1936 to appease the “democratic imperialists”. Having failed to appease the “democratic imperialists” Stalin sought to appease the “fascist imperialists” in August 1939 via the Stalin-Hitler pact, when the Spanish Revolution was not yet cold in its grave.

Trotsky took a very different approach to the matter in 1931. He strongly denounced Maurín and castigated Nin for his unprincipled manoeuvring that resulted in the leaders of the POUM and of the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT, National Confederation of Labour) and the closely associated Federación Anarquista Ibérica (FAI, Iberian Anarchist Federation), capitulating to the bourgeois nationalists by joining the popular front government in 1936, thereby preparing their own political defeat and assassination by the counter-revolutionary death squads of the GPU. Trotsky wrote in 1931:

“Maurín, the “leader” of the Workers and Peasants Bloc, shares the point of view of separatism. After certain hesitation, he has resolved himself with the left wing of petty bourgeois nationalism. I have already written that Catalan petty bourgeois nationalism at the present stage is progressive. But on one condition: that it develops its activity outside the ranks of Communism and that it is always under the blows of communist criticism. To permit petty-bourgeois nationalism to manifest itself under the Communist mask means at the same time to deliver a perfidious blow to the proletarian vanguard and to kill the progressive significance of petty bourgeois nationalism.

What does the program of separatism mean? The economic and political dismemberment of Spain, or in other words, the transformation of the Iberian Peninsula into a sort of Balkanic Peninsula, with independent states, divided by customs barriers, and with independent armies conducting independent Hispanic wars. Of course, the sage Maurín will say that he does not want this. But programs have their own logic, something Maurín hasn’t got.”

We must mention that in 1931, when Trotsky wrote this piece, he still retained the characterisation of Stalinism as centrist and not consciously counterrevolutionary, hence his use of the word “communist” above partly in the form of advice as to what real communists should do. He only characterised it as consciously counterrevolutionary after Hitler had crushed the German working class due to the disastrous Stalinist policy of the third period and when they failed to reassess it and adopted the even more disastrous policy of popular frontism, saying this was a further development of the previous policy, which in a certain sense it was. All Stalinist currents today operate a mixture of both unprincipled policies, the “left” ones like the KKE of Greece more third period and the “rights”. like the CPB/Morning Star of Blairian, more popular frontist. But both are abandoning the perspective of socialist revolution, which is of economic and political necessity, dependent on a perspective of world revolution.

The Spanish working class today

Josep María Antentas now piles confusion on confusion in his analysis. He seeks to prove that just because the working class in Catalonia is not a part of this independence movement (we presume he means as an organised force) then it does not understand where its real class interests lie and just because the Catalan nationalist right, the Convergència Democràtica de Catalunya (CDC), which in 2016 became the Partit Demòcrata Europeu Català (Catalan European Democratic Party (PDeCAT), is for independence it does not represent its own class interests because “big capital” and the “high bourgeoisie” (we presume in Catalonia) is opposed independence. A few extracts from these confused meanderings will demonstrate where he is trying to go with this argument:

“The independence movement cuts across class and generational lines, but the middle classes and young people dominate it. The high bourgeoisie has opposed the independence process from the beginning and consistently attempted from behind the scenes to derail it. The traditional working class — historically, immigrants who came to Catalonia from southern Spain in the sixties — has been less involved.”

So even if many of this working class came to Catalonia in the 60s we might logically assume that they have families back in Andalusia and Extremadura, etc. and might not therefore be attracted by demands that the rich Catalan province stop subsidising their families and poor relatives back home. But Antentas has another explanation which neither admits to the rightism of the independence demands to keep their wealth for themselves and says they “do not view an independent state as a future horizon” presumably because they are not as enlightened as himself:

“We can explain the traditional working class’s absence by two different but related phenomena: the lack of this class’s identification with the Catalan national question, and the decomposition of the labour movement. Workers in Catalonia remain divided on independence, and a significant part of them do not view an independent state as a future horizon.”

And now we come to the bit about the political representatives of the “high bourgeoisie” acting against the interests of the “high bourgeoisie” in a comical passage:

“A paradox of the independence movement is that the dominant political force since it began has been the Catalan nationalist right, Convergència Democràtica de Catalunya (CDC), historically the party that represents big capital despite the latter’s opposition to independence”

He does not need to prove the opposition of the “high bourgeoisie” to separation because presumably everyone in Spain knows this for a fact. But things were better in the 60s and 70s, he tells us, because they all fought Franco by linking together Catalan national demands with labour rights under the communist Unified Socialist Party of Catalonia (PSUC), who even seemed to be, “successfully convincing Spanish-origin workers to embrace national (Catalan?) demands”. Or maybe they just wanted rid of fascism and no one actually suggested that Catalonia would stop subsidising the poorer regions if fascism was gone and it became independent.

So, the ‘reluctant reactionary’ scenario is set: “When the independence movement broke out, President Artur Mas had no choice but to lead it”, he says. Far be it from any leftist to suggest that Mas was using seemingly radical independence demands to impose austerity on the working class and divert their anger. And frustratingly for our good professor that tactic isn’t really working and they are not fooled but he is doing his best to persuade us how progressive the right-wing nationalists are because they only attack the working class and poor because they have “no option”.

So “Since then, the financial and business powers have largely distanced (themselves?) politically from CDC, which nevertheless continues to represent their class interests”. If they have distanced themselves politically from their own political party then they must find another, one would think. Yes, that is happening, “In the five years they have been in government, the right-wing nationalists have experienced a serious decline in favour of the pro-independence centre left around Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC). This forced them to relaunch CDC as a new party in 2016 under the name of Partit Demòcrata Europeu Català (PDECAT)”. So, austerity wielding political parties become unpopular and they must then find cover from the left. And this is a long process with each successive left flank protected by other leftist, seeming more radical parties. This is what happened in Catalonia in 1936, with every left flank protected by more radical-sounding leftist until we came to the ‘revolutionaries’ of the POUM and the FAI in that 1936 Popular Front government.

But there are still anti-austerity movements in the whole of Spain, the 15-M Movement (Spanish: Movimiento 15-M), the Indignados Movement, and Take the Square which began with demonstrations on 15 May 2011. So how do these middle class but nonetheless militant movements relate to the independence movement in Catalonia, which is so obviously pro-austerity? Well our good professor tells us that:

“In Catalonia, discomfort (sic) with austerity policies and the collusion between financial and political elites was expressed first in the 15M movement. But, although it was not directed against austerity, the independence movement was also able to benefit from this discontent with the economic situation and offered a concrete proposal — independence from Spain — as a way out of the current situation.”

And there you have it; we can counterpose, “a concrete proposal — independence from Spain” as a “way out of the current situation”, i.e. continue with unending austerity and you can get away with it because doing something “concrete” is surely better than the abstraction and futility of demanding the state stops imposing austerity. Again, no hint emerges that the right-wing nationalists might be simply advancing the “concrete” to divert the anger away for capitalism itself.

But when it comes to conclusions we see that Antentas has a very reformist and useless perspective for the future:

“Spanish (and Catalan) Federalist left currents and the independence movements in Catalonia, Basque Country, and Galicia must articulate a joint strategy that resists the 1978 regime and the economic powers-that-be. This requires a complex centre-periphery dialectic that neither views matters from the Spanish political arena nor locks itself into a perspective of fighting only from by the periphery. This crucial strategic issue unfortunately does not appear to interest either Podemos (outside of its Anticapitalistas left-wing current) and IU, or the CUP and mainstream independent movement.”

So, there is simply a problem with how the “1978 regime” was founded and the “economic powers-that-be” (the capitalist system maybe?) which can be solved given good will on all sides by a, “complex centre-periphery dialectic that neither views matters from the Spanish political arena nor locks itself into a perspective of fighting only from by the periphery.” Good luck with that. That some political current might actually seek to put forward a programme for the overthrow of capitalism in 2017, a perspective which was realised in a part of Catalonia in 1936. is apparently unthinkable. [6] That this political opportunity to repeat the great revolution of 1917 in Russia was lost by the political opportunism of the POUM and FAI leadership and crushed by  the alliance between the Catalan bourgeois and counterrevolutionary Stalinism never enters the head of our good professor.

But he finishes with a flourish: 

“The bulk of the opposition does not recognize the referendum’s legitimacy and is calling for a boycott. Podem (the Catalan section of Podemos, which is far softer on separatism that its parent body) is the main exception: its general secretary defends the vote but is campaigning against independence (correctly, we would say).”

But the good professor must have his popular frontism with its vague aspirations for “a better political and social framework” which excludes the socialist revolution:

“However, to defend a “yes” vote is the best strategic choice, even for those who want a voluntary federal coexistence between the Catalan and Spanish peoples. Those in favour of this federal horizon should acknowledge that it can only be built on the basis of Catalan sovereignty. The outcome is far from guaranteed, but this strategic “yes” could deal a major blow to the 1978 regime and unleash Catalonia’s democratic potential to create a better political and social framework. That is precisely the strategic challenge for the future.”

The professor started his article in a very radical tone:

“Left-wing supporters rounded out this focus on nation and state with a stagist perspective that calls for independence first and reformed economic and social policies later. But this approach ignores the fact that whoever controls the transition process determines what comes later. Today’s concessions and demobilizations cannot be recovered tomorrow.”

This led us to think that he was about to deliver a great revolutionary document and his analysis of the sham 1978 constitution which ended the Franco dictatorship would lead him to call for the overthrow of capitalism. But all he wants is a better framework (a word he uses six times) to administer capitalism.

Recognise the right to self-determination but politically oppose its exercise

Recognising the right to self-determination and that these are historic nations does not oblige us to advocate full separation. We should advocate the Hispanic Socialist Federation (including Portugal). Full separation would leave these nations as pawns of other imperialist powers (the right-wing nationalists in both the Basque Country and Catalonia make no bones about that) and would tend to weaken class solidarity with workers in Castile, Andalucía, Galicia, etc. On the other hand, not recognising the right to self-determination would appear to workers like supporting the repressive central apparatus of the reactionary central Madrid state against them.

The Basque Country of northern Spain and southern France has a stronger claim to separation, or at least far more autonomy, given its history of severe repression under Franco’s dictatorship and the continuing struggles of its liberation movement, the ETA, and the numbers of political prisoners held in Spain and France.

In that sense, it is more like Ireland than Scotland or Catalonia. But it is not an economically oppressed nation like Ireland was and now obviously still is with the onset of the recession and austerity to pay the debts of foreign and native bankers. Both demands for separation therefore have an overtone of a rebellion against subsidising the poorer and more oppressed regions of Spain and keeping more of their wealth for ‘themselves’. This is a con game, in reality the ruling classes in Catalonia and the Basque Country wish to ally with the US and other European imperialists the better to exploit their own working class and poor. And similar profit motives rule in the Scottish and Welsh bourgeoisie’s desire for independence, whatever the illusions the poor and working class have in these movements.

History of a Constitutional Crisis

The constitutional crisis now that developed over the Catalan referendum on 1 October has a long history. Apart from ancient history, beginning in the Statute of 1919, then the Second Spanish Republic of 1931 resulted in the Statute of 1932 which Franco overthrew after the defeat of the Republic in 1939. With Franco’s death in 1976 a new Spanish Constitution was proclaimed in 1978 where Catalonia, the Basque Country and Galicia, became autonomous nationalities. Catalan autonomy was recognised in the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia in 1979.

In the Statute of Autonomy in 2006 Catalonia got greater regional powers but the Spanish High Court of Justice ruled that some of the articles were unconstitutional. In protest, some 550 symbolic local referenda demanding full independence were held between 2009 and 2011, which returned big “yes” votes but on low turn outs of about 30%. Wikipedia reports:

“The popular movement fed upwards to the politicians; a second mass protest on 11 September 2012 (the National Day of Catalonia) explicitly called on the Catalan government to begin the process towards independence. Catalan President Artur Mas called a snap general election, which resulted in a pro-independence majority for the first time in the region’s history. The new parliament adopted the Catalan Sovereignty Declaration in early 2013, asserting that the Catalan people had the right to decide their own political future.” [7]

The 2014 referendum had two questions “Do you want Catalonia to become a State?” and (if yes) “Do you want this State to be independent?” The Spanish Constitutional Court declared the referendum unconstitutional but it went ahead as a “consultation”; getting an 81% vote for “yes-yes”, but on a turnout of just 35%. Artur Mas, President of the Generalitat (Catalan parliament), then called an election for September 2015, which he said would be a plebiscite on independence. Pro-independence parties fell just short of a majority of votes in the September election, although they won a majority of seats. The new parliament passed a resolution declaring the start of the independence process in November 2015, and the following year, new president Carles Puigdemont announced a binding referendum on independence, to be held on 1 October 2017.

Crisis comes to a head

The Spanish government continues to oppose any move towards Catalan independence. But perhaps their police might stop the movement. In March 2017 Madrid fined Artur Mas and barred him from holding office for two years after a court found him guilty of organizing the 2014 independence referendum and have stepped up repression since.

The national police force; the Guardia Civil, confiscated millions of ballot papers and other election material and arrested many officials on a judge’s warrant in mid-September. And ships containing police reinforcements docked at Catalan ports. PP Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy threatened to use article 155 of the constitution; which allows Madrid to suspend home rule in autonomous communities. It says Madrid, “may adopt the measures necessary to oblige [regions] to forcibly comply with said duties or to protect the aforementioned general interest.”

Win or lose, separatists could still take to the streets, warned Francesc de Carreras, a constitutional lawyer who helped launch Ciudadanos, a party firmly opposed to independence. “We should at least be ready for a Catalan version of Maidan,” he said, referring to the square in Kiev that became the centre of the Ukrainian ‘revolution’ in February 2014. “It could create an even more unpredictable and tense situation,” he said. “But the right to protest must also be respected in a democracy.” [8]

And there you have the rightist essence of the movement, as in the Maidan, a few foolish leftists were swept along with that movement in February 2014, as they were in the “revolution” against Morsi in Egypt a year earlier. When all those right-wing mass movements went so horribly wrong, in fact revealed their essence in the outcomes they produced, our “Marxists” were totally unable to explain and refused to examine their own errors.


[1] Leon Trotsky, (July 1931), The National Question in Catalonia,

[2] El País, Myths and falsehoods of the Catalan independence movement

[3] Leon Trotsky, (July 1931), The National Question in Catalonia.

[4] Scottish Socialist Party, 18 September 2017, Catalonia: Spanish state repression as independence referendum approaches, Statement from Esquerra Revolucionària (Revolutionary Left),

[5] Josep María Antentas, The Jacobin Magazine, 2 October 2017, Catalonia’s Decision

[6] See Wikipedia, Revolutionary Catalonia for an account of these events, George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia tells the tale from the standpoint of an English liberal and Revolution and Counter Revolution in Spain by Felix Morrow gives the Trotskyist account,

[7] Wikipedia, Catalan independence

[8] Raphael Minder, 8 September 2017, New York Times, Catalonia Independence Bid Pushes Spain Toward Crisis, Catalonia Independence Bid Pushes Spain Toward Crisis

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WRP Explosion

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