Map showing the location of Catalonia within Spain. Image from Wikipedia
15-10-2017 – When is a revolution not a revolution? Amongst other things, it is when it is led by wealthy industrialists and conservative politicians, and when it is not supported by a majority of its people. Witness Catalonia today. All manner of misguided left parties and those who take a progressive political stand generally have been taken in by this movement for separatist independence of the wealthiest region of modern day Spain. It is true that there is right wing opposition to this movement, from Spanish nationalists to the conservative Spanish government, to the imperialist dominated European Union (EU). But the fact is, this movement is not supported by a majority of Catalans, even if the majority of Catalans and Spaniards support the right to vote on the question.
Catalonia is the wealthiest region of Spain, bar none. Andalusia in the south of Spain, for example, has less than two thirds the per capita income of Catalonia. It was never really industrialised, unlike the industry which was developed in Catalonia. Many suspect that the current push for Catalonian independence has much to do with the fact that the wealthy business owners and industrialists resent having to pay taxes to the Spanish state, which then redistributes much of them to the poorer regions of Spain, such as Andalusia and Galicia. Of course, this is relative, as a capitalist state’s prime function is far from ensuring the welfare of the masses. Catalonia has 7.3 million people, and a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of over $300 billion, similar to that of Scotland and Singapore. It goes without saying that the Catalan working class does not automatically share in this wealth, but the region itself is not short of a quid.
Under normal circumstances, the left usually comes behind a small prospective nation against a larger one, or a nation seeking national liberation against stronger imperialist powers. There is a sense of siding with the underdog, of siding with the less powerful against the mighty. However, the situation of Catalonia today is not what any self-respecting leftist would refer to as “normal”. By definition, it can’t be a “revolution” if it is led by the wealthiest sections of a society, and/or their political representatives. The affluent have never been oppressed by the poor, and never can be.
One can agree that Catalonia meets the criteria for the Marxist conception of a nation, that is, it contains: 1. a common language (Catalan), a common territory, a common economy and a common culture. And leftists usually point to Lenin’s work affirming that Marxists can support the right of a nation to self-determination – the right to self-administration up to and including the right to secede, to form their own nation. However, what some left parties misunderstand is that while Marxists support the right of nations to self-determination, it does not follow automatically that Marxists will advocate the exercise of that right. Whether or not Marxists advocate the exercise of the right of nations to self-determination depends almost entirely on whether this will advance, or set back, the class struggle, both in the oppressed nation and the oppressor nations. If self-determination will clear the way for better conditions for the working class struggle to advance, for example, where national oppression is so great that it clouds over other political issues, then Marxists may decide to support it. If, on the other hand, the exercise of self-determination may lead to the setting back of the working class struggle, for example by unnecessarily boosting harmful nationalism, and cutting workers of small and large nations off from one another, then Marxists may actually campaign against the exercise of the right to self-determination. That leftists should automatically support the exercise of the right to self-determination, regardless of the concrete analysis of concrete conditions, is in flagrant contradiction to Leninism.
In 2017, and for the last five years or so, the Catalonian independence movement has been politically led by conservative nationalists, with links to the Catalan bourgeois class. How conservative? For one thing, these leaders have been, and remain, staunchly in favour of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation – the military arm of anti-Russian US led imperialism). Former Catalonian Prime Minister Artur Mas made it explicit – Catalonia actively seeks membership of NATO. NATO is arguably the most dangerous organisation in the world today, and the one most likely to be at the heart of itself igniting World War III. One could sustain a case that NATO is thus the most politically reactionary body existing. Yet NATO membership is dearly held by Catalonian independence leaders. One doesn’t have to be a Marxist to recognise something is amiss here.
This alone is enough to recoil, but there is more. The Catalonian independence movement is also pro-EU (European Union). Catalan leaders recently re-stated that a breakaway Catalonia would seek to remain a part of the EU – even despite the EU saying that it won’t recognise an independent Catalonia if not completed via the Spanish constitution. The EU is an imperialist trading bloc, where the stronger imperialist powers, such as Germany and France, lord it over the poorer southern countries such as Portugal, Greece, and Spain itself. It functions to suppress the wages and working conditions of all workers across Europe to advantage European capital against its US and Japanese rivals – even if the US and Japan are mired in capitalist recession, and have been for some years. The pro-EU politics of Catalan leaders is another indication of how right-wing they are.
Undoubtedly there are some left-wing minded Catalans who have been drawn into the campaign for independence. A possible reason for this is that they mistakenly believe that Catalonian independence will lead to an end to the crushing unemployment and austerity measures being implemented across Spain in the wake of the capitalist financial crisis in 2008. However, a majority of Catalans have never favoured independence outright, and certainly not separatist independence. Many polls show that support amongst Catalans for independence has never reached more than around 41%. Support amongst Catalans to a unilateral declaration of independence is even smaller, at 35%. Opposition to a unilateral declaration of independence amongst Catalans stands at 60%, with a near overwhelming 67% opposition to this taking place without a debate in the Catalonian regional parliament.
The left could even consider backing an independence movement if it had a majority of working class people backing it. But this is extremely doubtful in the case of Catalonia. The October 1 referendum, despite a rough-handed attempt to prevent it being carried out by the Spanish police, only had a turn-out of around 2 million votes. Of these, 90.9% supported independence, while 7.87% opposed independence. So, approximately 5.3 million Catalans did not vote at all – and it is fairly safe to say that the overwhelming majority of these folk did not turn out to vote due to the fact that they were NOT in favour of independence. Of course, this is a separate matter from having the right to vote for independence. But the left should know better than to back an independence movement which does NOT have majority support.
It is the case that the attempted repression meted out by the Spanish authorities against the holding of the referendum may push some more Catalans into supporting the push for independence. But this is by no means guaranteed. In fact, there was a response by those supporting unity with Spain, in a rally on October 8. Some reports put attendance at up to a million people, many waving Spanish flags. To be sure, there was a component, perhaps even the leading elements, which were mobilising on the basis of Spanish nationalism. There was also support for the EU – which the bourgeois led Catalonian independence movement also supports. Yet there was also a clear element of a unity with Spain sentiment, which, from all reports, constitutes the majority within Catalonia. This is the case even if there are major concerns about unemployment, austerity, and so on.
In fact, the majority of Catalans who support unity with Spain are also more than aware that it was in fact the conservative politicians who have led the independence movement themselves who have carried out austerity measures. This has included eliminating public service jobs and slashing wages at the behest of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). In 2013, Catalonia’s ambulance workers were forced to take industrial action against a 9.2% wage cut. These savage austerity measures have been carried out by the Catalonian government itself, which is now leading the independence movement!
Amongst the reasons why the Catalonian independence movement does not have overwhelming, or even majority support – is the question of language. It is true that Catalan was forbidden in Catalonia during the 40 odd years of Francoist rule, from the 1930s to the 1970s. Since then Catalan has been bilingual – Catalan and Spanish – while the majority of government, academic and institutional language is usually carried out in Catalan. Yet Catalonia also includes a large proportion of working people from the other regions of Spain, as well as migrants. Neither of these groups have Catalan as their first language. In fact, the Catalonian government’s own statistics show that less than a third – 31% – of Catalonian residents speak Catalan as a first language. Despite this, the Catalonian independence parties want Catalan to be the only language for public affairs.
Nationalism is not the answer
What is more, even the moderate left, let alone Marxists, have to be concerned when a police chief is regarded as a hero by the nationalists. The chief of police of the Catalonian autonomous region, Josep Lluis Trapero, once gave a press conference, as head of the Mossos d’Esquadra (regional police). One reporter walked out when they discovered it was being held in the Catalan language. Trapero reportedly said in response “Okay, very well. So, goodbye”. This farewell in Spanish is now often used by Catalonian independence supporters – a measure of the lack of class awareness. It hardly needs to be said that the police are the bitter class enemies of working people, whether in a small regional capitalist autonomous region, OR in a larger national capitalist state. The logic of small time nationalism – in this case upholding the police as “heroes” very easily lends itself to big power nationalism.
Some left parties say that there are both left wing and right wing Catalonian independence parties, and so the task is to assist the “left”. Yet the “left” they refer to is not socialist in the Marxist sense, even if they refer to themselves as “socialists”. The Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP), reserve the use of “socialist” and “feminist” rhetoric, but overall they are similar to the Greek SYRIZA party of Alexis Tsipras – which led Greek workers into the catastrophe of imposed austerity which was far-worse than the former “social-democratic” politicians they replaced. The CUP currently holds 10 seats in the Catalan regional parliament, and is a part of the JxSi (Together for Yes) Coalition, alongside the Catalan Repulican Left (ERC) and the Catalan Democratic Party of Europe (PDeCAT). The PDeCAT party is the right-wing party of Catalan premier Carles Puigdemont. So the CUP attempts to be the “left” force – while in direct coalition with the right-wing nationalists. The experience of SYRIZA in Greece in 2015 gives a clear indication of where that strategy hits the rocks.
Nationalism is never the answer to pressing political problems facing the working people. As Boris Kagarlitsky writes, whenever the nationalists hold the upper hand, the left is weak. Conversely, whenever the left is the strongest and most influential, nationalists and nationalism often fade away into irrelevance. The task for the left in Catalonia and Spain and Europe today is to unite working people against the profit system. In this case, dividing workers up into smaller and smaller nations can only fuel further isolation from one another, at a time when the greatest pro-working class unity against European capitalism is needed. Austerity can only be defeated by a widespread workers’ struggle for revolutionary power, opening the gates of true socialism. Marxist vanguard parties which prioritise the struggle to win over the majority of Catalan, Spanish, European and international workers to this perspective are the key to solving this and other crucial problems of our time.
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