SocialismToday           Socialist Party magazine

Issue 164 Dec/Jan 2012/13


Capitalist crisis, the struggle for self-determination and workers’ unity

November’s Catalonian elections were a setback for the regional, right-wing Convergence and Union party (CiU) government of Artur Mas. But the increased vote for other pro-independence referendum parties, including the Initiative for Catalonia Greens-Catalan United and Alternative Left alliance ((ICV-EuiA), confirms that the national question has re-emerged as part of the deepening crisis in Spain. How should socialists respond? This article is from the text agreed by members of SOCIALISMO REVOLUCIONARIO (CWI Spain) at a state-wide meeting in Barcelona in October.

THE PRO-INDEPENDENCE march of 1.5 million people on 11 September – La Diada, Catalan National Day – has propelled the national question to the top of the agenda. The huge turnout and political turmoil which has followed have added to the general political and economic crises throughout Spain. In these developments, we see the unresolved historical national contradictions which are deeply entwined with Spanish capitalism, mixed with the economic crisis, and the general disillusionment with the political establishment, alongside the growth of the mass movement against austerity. This is creating an explosive cocktail of conditions which will be played out in the next period.

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, it cannot be. In fact, there has been a slow and steady hardening of support for independence in Catalonia in recent years. Now, due to the impact of the crisis, we have seen another increase in this support, with some polls citing more than 50% in favour. 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.

As the crisis continues, divisions between different sections of the ruling class are opening up. One expression of this is the developing tensions between the capitalist parties. In this case, that involves the Convergence and Union party (CiU – Convergència i Unió, the right-wing nationalist governing party in Catalonia, led by Artur Mas), and the People’s Party (PP – Partido Popular, led by prime minister Mariano Rajoy).

Flags and axes

FUNDAMENTALLY, THESE TWO parties share the belief in a common ‘solution’ to the crisis. They both believe that working-class people should be made to 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 conflict over a diminishing pool of resources, alongside the opposition from the working class, have led to a war of brinksmanship between Mas and Rajoy which has further antagonised the national question. Their 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 with 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. Agreeing to the fiscal pact would cause civil war in the ranks of the PP, including over the question of financing the regions. 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 could break the government from within. Any relaxation of the central government’s power to dictate the implementation of austerity in the regions would complicate the bosses’ agenda and this would anger ‘the market’.

Nonetheless, the hold of Artur Mas and the CiU on the movement in favour of self-determination is also extremely unstable. Within its ranks there are likely to be sections, such as the one led by Duran Llieda, that think that Mas is going too far but, for the cause of the upcoming elections on 25 November, will stay quiet. CiU has never been outspoken in favour of independence, in fact, but has now found that it is a vehicle with which to hit Madrid and gain favourable conditions. Fears for the profits of Catalan big business have already seen some big bourgeois leaders, such as the head of La Planeta, attempt to pull in the reins of Catalan nationalism.

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 leftward direction. Already, the change in tone of Mas, who holds back from putting forward a programme for the clear separation from the Spanish state, promising now only a referendum within four years, will be seen as not enough by many.

The link between anti-cuts and nationalist sentiments

IT IS CLEAR that, at the moment, the simplistic arguments put forward by the 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, despite the unpopularity of the CiU among wide sections of the working class.

The working-class movement and the left must be clear in attacking any CiU ‘anti-cuts’ credentials. The CiU is ideologically committed to making further massive cuts, on top of the four jumbo austerity packages it has already implemented. Under its control, any new resources from Madrid would go towards paying the debts of the rich, bailing out the banks and big business, while continuing to trample on workers’ rights and conditions. Would the working class get anything extra financially, or less severe cuts in services from a CiU-led independent capitalist Catalonia or 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 capitalist system 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 seizing the wealth of the rich, not at the expense of essential public spending in other regions, feeding into a path of divide and rule.

One of the slogans of La Diada was "Catalonia, Europe’s newest nation". Mas and the CiU, both faithful to the capitalist markets, are feeling 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 Catalonia being kicked out of the EU and the euro – which, indeed, would be the initial outcome according to EU law. Mas argues that Catalonia 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 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 euro membership. Is Mas’s project for a capitalist Catalonia resting on the broken bones of the euro? Supporters of Mas and the 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 would be under the same hammer of European capitalism.

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 the working class. The movement against austerity has spurred further national feelings adding to the historical anger that already existed. Nonetheless, an important section of the community has concerns over developments in the direction of independence and watch with some worry.

There are different types of national aspirations. Socialismo Revolucionario (SR – 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 aspirations 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 is built on the basis of the 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 policies. SR 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, while defending the democratic rights of all.

The breakup of the Spanish state?

BREAKING UP THE Spanish state would weaken capitalism enormously, not just in Spain but beyond. But, in itself, it does not necessarily represent a solution for working-class people. Polls show that there is a growing and hardening 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, therefore, should pose a variety of possibilities, rather than merely a polarising yes-or-no on independence. On the one hand, any push towards a referendum of this type represents Spanish capitalism’s desire to rally around it all those who wish to ‘defend Spain’. On the other hand, it would also be an attempt 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 of and opposition to the state and system lauded as the solution to all the problems which followed the ‘transition’ to democracy after Francoism. When the massive movement of 15-M exploded – as tens of thousands occupied squares on 15 May 2011 – it reflected a widespread belief, especially among young people, that the post-transition project of Spanish society had failed. This reflected not only Catalan sentiments, but those across the whole of the state of Spain. That movement also showed the power of solidarity and united struggle on a state-wide level. This was again shown in the general strikes in March and on 14 November this year.

SR believes that any campaign 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 programme for a socialist alternative which defends the right of Catalonia and other nationalities to decide.

We stress that the struggle for genuine national and democratic rights is the struggle for socialism. A socialist programme must include 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 a one-sided approach which can, in fact, be mistaken for espanolista nationalism.

The left needs to intervene decisively with a class programme uniting workers across the state and winning those in the rest of Spain to the democratic demand for the right to self-determination in Catalonia. This can only be done by forging solidarity on social issues, struggling together against the common enemy and expressing, above all, 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 Catalonia, as part of a free and voluntary federation, this approach could split workers and the middle class away from both the CiU and PP.

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 the 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 right-wing populism. This will develop further 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 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 which, seemingly, grew from nowhere and is attacking immigrants and left-wing activists alike, and winning seats in elections. This is a warning to workers’ organisations everywhere.

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 fragmenting the class struggle, which is strengthened by the absence of a militant state-wide pole of attraction, either in the trade union movement or on the left. This is a contradiction which can only be overcome by filling this political vacuum, and building from below a united front of workers’ and genuine left-wing organisations. This should include the United Left (IU – Izquierda Unida), which is the only left organisation to have a significant base throughout the state. It needs to be armed with a programme to bring down the PP and fight for a government of the working class.

Some on the left take a far too simplistic position on this question. En Lucha (the sister organisation of the British Socialist Workers’ Party), for example, states 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 for genuine socialism and workers’ democracy. Not only the unity of workers across the Spanish state, but of all workers across the Iberian penninsula, Europe and, for that matter, the world.


Home About Us | Back Issues | Reviews | Links | Contact Us | Subscribe | Search | Top of page