Spain/Catalonia: Capitalist crisis, the struggle for self-determination and workers’ unity

Growth in support for independence as early elections loom

On 13/14 October, members of Socialismo Revolucionario (CWI in Spain) held a state-wide meeting in Barcelona, in the midst of a rapidly deepening economic crisis and changing situation. Important changes include the coming to the to the fore of the national question, particularly in Catalonia. This is leading to an increasingly volatile confrontation between the regional right-wing nationalist Convergence and Union (CiU) government, led by Artur Mas, and right wing People’s Party (PP) central government.

Below we publish a text discussed and agreed by members of Socialismo Revolucionario at the October meeting.

The pro-independence march of 1.5 million people on “la Diada” 11 September, this year, has propelled the national question to the top of the political agenda. The huge turnout and political turmoil which has followed has added to the general political and economic crises taking place across the whole of the state of Spain. In these developments, we see the unresolved historical national contradictions which are deeply entwined with Spanish capitalism, mixed with the economic crisis, the general disillusionment with the political establishment and the mass movement against austerity. This is creating an explosive cocktail of conditions which will be played out in the next period.

Growth in support for independence

During the period of “stability” and then of economic boom, following the “transition” from Franco’s military regime, capitalism boasted that it had overcome the fundamental problems of the past, including that of the national question. However, having been deepened by the national oppression of the Franco years, this question has not been resolved and on the basis of a divisive capitalist society cannot be. There has been a slow and steady hardening of the support for independence in Catalonia in recent years. Now, due to the impact of the crisis we have seen another increase in support of independence, with some polls citing support at above 50%. In response to this, Marxists need to attempt to pave a way forward for the struggle for democratic national rights, starting from the needs of the class struggle, and of forging the unity of the working class to achieve the goal of genuine socialism and liberation for all.

PP/CiU – fundamentally the same but divided

As the crisis continues, divisions between different sections of the ruling classes are opening up. One expression of this is the developing tensions in between sections of the ruling class represented by the Convergence and Union party (CiU – a right-wing nationalist governing party in Catalonia) and the People’s Party (PP) respectively. Fundamentally, these two parties share belief in a common “solution” to the crisis. They both believe that the solution is making working people pay through privatisation, cuts and the destruction of labour conditions. They have cooperated over anti-worker budgets and reforms both in Catalonia and Madrid, and ultimately will be willing to do so again when it suits their image. But the deepening of the crisis and struggle over a diminishing pool of resources alongside the opposition from the working class, has led to a war of brinksmanship between Mas and Rajoy which has further antagonised the national question. Mas and Rajoy’s head-to-head battle is a symptom of the ruling class’s impasse.

However, the differences which exist between them should not be exaggerated or misunderstood. Both men have flags, in one hand, to shore up their support and axes, in the other hand, by which to attack the working class through austerity. Their current supposed confrontation is of great benefit to their opportunist interests: Rajoy’s in shoring up the “Espanolista” (Spanish nationalist) vote and bringing about a greater polarisation, and Mas in hiding his own cuts behind the Catalan Estrella flag. Their wars of words have an element of a staged theatre show. However, what is at play is not only their political manoeuvres, but real social forces and sentiments, which could develop beyond their control.

In rejecting CiU’s “fiscal pact” demands, Rajoy is under pressure not to allow one region a better fiscal arrangement than another due to the deficit and debt crisis in all regions, many of which are run by the PP themselves. Agreeing to the fiscal pact would cause civil war in the ranks of the PP, even on the question of the financing of the regions alone. On top of this, the “espanolista” sentiments which the PP is based on mean that any further concession of rights to regions like Catalonia or the Basque county by Rajoy, could break the government from within. Any relaxing of the central power to dictate to the regions implementing austerity would complicate the bosss’ agenda and this would anger “the markets”.

However, the hold of Mas and CiU on the movement in favour of self-determination is also extremely unstable. Within the ranks of CIU there are likely to be sections, such as that led by Duran Llieda, that think Artur Mas is going too far but for the cause of the upcoming elections will stay quiet. CIU themselves have never been “outspoken” in favour of independence, but now find it a vehicle with which to hit Madrid and gain favourable conditions. Fears for the profits of Catalan big business has already seen some big bourgeois leaders, such as the head of La Planeta, attempt to pull in the reigns of Catalan nationalism for fear that it would hit profit margins. However, Catalan nationalism goes far deeper than this, and the process will not easily be controlled from above by the likes of CiU, especially if taken in a left direction. Already, the change in tone of Mas, who holds back from putting forward a programme for clear separation from the Spanish state, and promising now only a referendum within four years, will be seen as “not enough” by many.

Is Catalonia paying more than it should? The link between anti-cuts and nationalist sentiments

It is clear that at the moment, the simplistic arguments put forward by CIU – that Madrid takes more than it gives in terms of financing – has had some effect on layers of people angry at the cuts taking place in Catalonia. This rhetoric has won wide support. On the basis of support for these arguments, CiU are, despite their unpopularity among wide sections of the working class, very likely to win the early elections on 25 November, possibly with an increased majority.

The working class movement and the left must be clear in attacking any CiU “anti-cuts” credentials. CiU is ideologically committed to making more massive cuts, on top of the four jumbo austerity packages it has already implemented. Under their control, any new resources from Madrid would go towards paying the debts of the rich, bailing out the banks and big business, while the trampling of workers’ rights and conditions would continue. Would the working class get anything extra financially or less cuts in services from a CiU-led independent capitalist Catalonia , or through a CiU-negotiated “fiscal pact”? NO! The CiU-led debate around Catalonia’s financing is a mixture of truths and myths into which the needs of working people, whether in Barcelona, Madrid or Seville, do not enter. The real problem is the system of capitalism and its austerity programme bleeding the working class dry. The resources for increased public spending, on massive job creation and decent public services, must come from siezing the wealth of the rich, not at the expense of essential public spending in other regions, feeding into a path of divide-and-rule.

Catalonia in Europe

One of the slogans of La Diada was “Catalonia Europe’s newest nation”. Mas and CiU – faithful to the capitalist markets – feel the pressure from their European capitalist masters. Thus recently, the battle has entered the stage of the European Union on the legality or not of an independent Catalan state, and whether or not it would stay in the EU and Euro. Rajoy and other ministers seek to fear-monger over an independent Catalunya being kicked out of the EU and Euro (which indeed would be the initial outcome according to EU law), while Mas argues that Catalunya would be automatically readmitted because of its economic weight.

Some Catalan nationalists promote the idea of a “more social” Catalonia in a more federalist Europe. This is a fantasy under the conditions of capitalism. The crisis in Europe is exacerbated due to the national conflicts and interests that capitalistic society cannot solve. The future of the very euro itself is in serious doubt. The exit of Greece and maybe Portugal is a serious option for the dictators of capital. They have trouble admitting that even the Spanish state could also be ejected from the euro membership. Is Mas’ project for a capitalist Catalonia, resting on the broken bones of the euro? Supporters of Mas and CiU have a vision of a small vibrant state in the sea of a tranquil Europe. This is not the Europe of today. A nation state of this type will not prosper and grow but be under the same hammer of European capitalism.

Right to self determination and workers’ unity

There are clear aspirations in Catalonia for greater autonomy, including independence. It would be wrong to state, as some left groups unfortunately do, that this is merely an upper or “middle class phenomenon”. It is a general process with a wide impact throughout Catalan society, including throughout the working class. The movement against austerity has spurred further national feelings added to historical anger that already existed. Still, however, an important section of the community have concerns over developments in the direction of independence and watch with some worry.

There are different types of national aspirations. Socialismo Revolucionario (CWI in Spain) has no support for the nationalism of the ruling classes or their agenda. They cannot act in the interests of workers, whatever their clothing or flag. However, another thing altogether is the national aspirations of the working class in Catalonia. As Marxists have always done, on the basis of these aspriations, we support the right to self-determination, including the right to form an independent state. However, we warn of the inherent dangers in this process especially in Catalonia, where there is at least a significant minority against independence. If the struggle for independence is capitalist in nature and/or is focused on one section of the community then it can have the effect of dividing the workers’ movement, and weakening it in the face of the capitalist onslaught. Socialism is fundamentally an internationalist idea and built on the bases of unity of the whole working class.

SR strives to break down barriers between workers and unite them in a common cause, which today is the struggle against austerity and for alternative socialist poilicies. Socialismo Revolucionario has a flexible approach, supporting the right to self-determination and independence, but trying to put a balanced position of what is in the best interests of all working people whilst defending the democratic rights of all.

Breaking up of Spanish state?

The breaking up of the Spanish state would weaken capitalism enormously, not just in Spain but beyond. But the breaking up of the Spanish state in itself does not necessarily represent a solution for the working people.

The polls now show that there is growth and hardening of support for independence, but that for many, this is also mixed up with a desire for greater autonomy and a more federal or bilateral relationship with Spain. A genuinely democratic referendum on the Catalan national question should thus pose a variety of possibilities, rather than merely be a polarising “yes/no” referendum on independence. Any push towards a referendum of this type represents on the one hand, Spanish capitalism’s desire to rally around it all those who wish to “defend Spain”, and on the other hand, a desire to scare the Catalan people into voting for the status quo, with the threat of immediate isolation from Spain and Europe.

What is clear is that the capitalist crisis has led to a massive questioning and opposition to the state and system lauded as the solution to all problems following “the transition” to democracy following Francoism. When the massive movement of the M15 exploded, it reflected a widespread belief – especially among the youth – that the project of post-transition project of Spanish society had failed. This reflected not only Catalan sentiments, but those across the whole of the state of Spain. Also that movement showed the power of solidarity and united struggle on a state-wide level. This was again shown in the general strike in March and will again be shown on 14 November. Socialismo Revolucionario (CWI in Spain) believes that rather than relying on the right-wing CiU, any struggle for real self-determination has to begin from a struggle of the working class, organised on a state-wide and international level, on the basis of common interests, and a common programme for a socialist alternative which defends the right of Catalunya and other nationalities to decide.

A struggle for a socialist Catalonia

We stress that the struggle for genuine national and democratic rights is the struggle for socialism and that a socialist programme includes in it the right for nations to stand apart if they wish and for a genuine democratic socialist federation on an equal and voluntary basis. The working class struggle of course transcends national borders and boundaries. However, to ignore the existence of different nations, with their own rights and integrity, is equally disastrous and would lead to one-sided approach, which can in fact be mistaken for “espanolista” nationalism.

The left needs to decisively intervene with a class programme uniting workers across the state and winning workers of the rest of Spain to the democratic demand for the right to self-determination in Catalunya. This can only be done by forging solidarity on social issues, struggling together against the common enemy and above all expressing the need of a real socialist transformation of society where the right to self-determination, including independence, would be upheld and protected. Under the banner of a fight for a Socialist Catalunya, as part of a free and voluntary federation, this approach could split workers and the middle class away from both the CIU and PP.

Dangers for the working class – no to divide and rule!

In future months, it is highly likely that the Spanish state and its political representatives will attempt to block referendums and protests using rule of law and other methods. They will also demonise Catalan nationalism and attempt to develop sectarian divisions within Catalonia and Spain, as a whole. This could be strengthened by more extreme Spanish nationalist elements which respond in kind, and could lead to the further growth of the Spanish far right and populism. This will develop more if there are no victories for the workers’ movement. The discourse of Espanolista elements, to the effect that the Basques and Catalans are looting Spain, must be countered with an anti-capitalist explanation that those who are looting Spain are the bankers and markets.

The battle-lines of the civil war are still in existence. Army society spokesmen and leading PP politicians have used words such as “treason” and made threats if there are moves in the future towards independence from the Spanish state.

We should take note of the growth of the far right Golden Dawn in Greece that seemingly have grown from nowhere and now are attacking immigrants and left wing activists, alike, and winning seats in elections. This is a warning to workers’ organisations everywhere.

At the moment, we are strong and the future opportunities to win socialism will exist and we must take all opportunities to strengthen the ideas of socialist transformation of society and workers’ unity. A sectarian campaign dividing workers poses great dangers for the struggle ahead. We must oppose any developments in this direction. The move towards separatism also carries with it the danger of a fragmentation of the class struggle, which is strengthened by the absence of a militant state-wide poll, either in the trade union movement or the left. This is a contradiction which can only be overcome by filling this vacuum, and building from below a united front of workers’ and genuine left-wing organisations, including the United Left (IU) which is the only left organisation to have a significant bas throughout the state, armed with a programme to bring down the PP government and fight for a government of the working class.

Some on the left position themselves on this question far too simplistically, for example, En Lucha (the sister organisation of the British Socialist Workers’ Party). They state that the breakup of the state is good and that’s that. There is a danger that the left can become opportunistic un-critical cheerleaders of nationalism. The task of Marxism is to engage in the debates and struggles of all workers and youth, always linking issues to the need for workers’ solidarity and above all for genuine socialism and workers’ democracy. Not only the unity of workers across the Spanish state but of unity of all workers across the Iberian penninsula, Europe and, for that matter, the world.

Catalan elections on 25 November – Make them a referendum on austerity!

Clearly CIU have called the elections to strengthen their position and to divert attention away from the cuts. These elections are an opportunity for the left. The position of IU, other left organisations and trade unions are crucial in making these elections a referendum on the austerity measures of the PP and CIU, alike, and building of class unity. In these elections, we have to link the struggles against austerity with the democratic right of self determination for Catalonia.

The right to a referendum on self-determination

The right to a referendum is clear. The people of Catalonia should have the choice. However, with CiU in charge, it is likely the wording of such a referendum would not be pro-worker. We stand for a minimum of a multiple choice referendum, including greater autonomy and confederalism.

We also argue that the working class itself through its organizations – the trade unions, tenants groups, community and workplace assemblies and, if needed, special workers’ unity committees – should be set up should put a clear position on what the “questions” in a referendum should be.

The building of a mass workers’ left crucial component

The absence of a mass left alternative, drawing thousands of new working class and young fighters into political activity, with a programme and strategy able to unite the working class and fight for an authentic socialism, is a key factor in the events. The forces – especially the rank and file – of existing left organisations, especially the IU, all could have a part to play in the construction of such a force. But the necessary ingredients include a programme, including the right to self-determination, the non-payment of the debt, massive public investment programmes in jobs, the nationalisation of the banks under democratic control etc. On the basis of such a programme, a united front could be built – in Catalonia, but also across the Spanish state – to popularise the idea of a workers’ government with such revolutionary socialist policies.

In the Catalan elections, we call for a vote for workers’ candidates that take a class position in defence of our rights and in opposition to austerity. Unfortunately, a number of left candidatures are likely to be presented (including an alliance between EuiA and the “eco-socialist” ICV, and a list put forward by the left-nationalist CUP). While defending a vote for these candidates, we think that only on the basis of principled unity, both electorally and in the growing struggles, can the left and working class show a way out of the chaos of this crisis.

We say:

  • CIU/PP/PSOE – the same capitalist agenda in different clothes – build a workers’ alternative to end capitalism
  • Vote for authentic socialist candidates, re-found the left, and unite the movement Make the election against austerity and for unity. For a fighting programme to end capitalism
  • For the right to a referendum (with multi-choice) but do not let capitalists decide the agenda. Build a united workers’ campaign for class position to be presented
  • For an authentic socialist Catalonia, as part of a free and voluntary confederation of the Spanish state, the Iberian penninsula and Europe. Freedom to all nations, unity of all working people!
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