Catalonia and the Marxist Program

The Catalan Independence and the struggle for a Socialist Federation of the Iberian Peninsula

Protest in favor of an independence referendum, September 2017 (Reuters)

Originally posted in Portuguese in November 2017

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On October 1, the Generalitat (regional government) of Catalonia held an independence referendum that was severely repressed by the Spanish police, and declared “illegal” by President Mariano Rajoy and the Cortes. Voting sites were attacked by troops, as were demonstrations favoring independence. Despite this, widespread participation in the referendum and the result (more than 90% favorable to the separation) made clear the popular desire for the creation of a Catalan Republic.

In spite of the vacillations of the Catalan European Democratic Party (PDECAT) – which runs the Generalitat de Catalunya – and its president, Carles Puidgemont, independence was declared a few days later. Then the Catalan government was ousted by constitutional article 155, which affirms the inviolability of Spanish territory. After escaping from the country, Puidgemont, members of his cabinet and other Catalan authorities turned themselves over to the police in Belgium and are now awaiting trial in a lawsuit over “rebellion, sedition and misappropriation of public money.”

The victory of the PDECAT in the 2016 elections and the resurgence of the independence movement have an intimate connection with the capitalist economic crisis. The impact of the crisis on the more industrialized region of the Spanish state gave voice to pro-independence movements, which affirm that the separation would allow the guarantee of better living conditions and the rejection of the austerity packages. In 2010, Spain’s Constitutional Court repealed a law previously approved by the Catalan Parliament, which declared the region a nation and granted greater autonomy to the Generalitat. One of the reasons for this was to facilitate the imposition of austerity policies in Catalonia.

The Catalan bourgeoisie took a turn to defend immediate separation, and in doing it, received broad popular support. Marches and popular consultations on independence were organized, paving the way for the October 1 referendum. The Catalan bourgeoisie wants to take a more autonomous position in face of the “solutions” imposed by the European Union, the European Central Bank and the IMF, applied by the Rajoy government. That is why France and Germany, the EU central states, have refused to accept the separation and have given their full support to Madrid. They also affirmed that if Catalan independence occurs, the country will be immediately excluded from the EU. The German and French imperialists do not want to see their loyal “Spanish vassal” weakened.

The position of the Catalan bourgeoisie, however, is full of mistakes. Even if taken its industrial potential, Catalonia would not be able to compete on an equal footing with the great European imperialist powers. The need for imperialist bank borrowing for the modernization of the productive forces, the consequent impositions demanded by such creditors in the form of neoliberal policies, and the impact of these policies on the rights of the proletariat would quickly put the country – in the case of independence – in a subaltern position not unlike Greece or Portugal. The chain of oppression of Madrid can be broken by the Catalan people, but the continuity of imperialist domination (especially by the French and German capitalists) prevents true independence and freedom.

That is why the proletariat and its revolutionary vanguard can not uncritically follow the discourse of the Catalan bourgeoisie. They must warn that today’s bourgeois allies in the struggle for the right to independence are the ones who will, if it happens, conduct new austerity attacks against the workers and the people tomorrow, at the service of one imperialist agency or another.

Marxists must support the right to self-determination of peoples, which in this case implies defending Catalonia’s choice for independence. It is the defense of a national-democratic right and those who want to see the government of Madrid defeated by a workers’ revolution must oppose the oppression that it exerts against the nationalities. It is also necessary to defend dropping the accusations against the Catalan citizens and politicians who advocate independence and demand the withdrawal of all the Spanish police forces from Catalonia. This does not mean support for the bourgeois government of Puidgemont.

The unity of the working class against the exploitation of capitalists, regardless of national barriers or differences, is a basic pre-requisite for the victory of a revolutionary socialist movement. It is necessary to have the strongest unity in the political struggles and solidarity between Catalan, Castilian, Basque, Galician, etc. workers, with or without independence. This presupposition can only be maintained if workers throughout the Spanish state oppose, with their methods of struggle, the repression that the Catalan people are suffering now. But Marxists do not advocate a “Balkanization” of the Iberian Peninsula in several small states, but rather the creation of an Iberian socialist federation, a workers’ state in which nationalities have an effective freedom and autonomy, and that defends the interests of the whole working class against national and foreign capitalists.

Yet no legitimate “unity” can be maintained on the basis of the oppressive force of the present Spanish bourgeois state. That is why we denounce the treacherous and shameful position of parties like “Unidos Podemos”, whose Secretary-General Pablo Iglesias declares himself in favor of “democratically guaranteeing the territorial unity” of Spain, making a chorus with Rajoy to consider the declaration of independence “illegal” and proposing, instead, a referendum under the EU supervision. Contrary to this so-called “democratic” party, we do not recognize any democracy in chains that bind an oppressed nation to an oppressive state by force. As Leon Trotsky pointed out:

Are the workers and peasants of the various parties of Spain interested in the economic dismemberment of Spain? In no case. That is why, to identify the decisive struggle for the right to self-determination with propaganda for separatism, means to accomplish a fatal work. Our program is for Hispanic Federation with the indispensable maintenance of economic unity. We have no intention of imposing this program upon the oppressed nationalities of the peninsula 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.” (The National Question in Catalonia, July 1931).