SocialismToday           Socialist Party magazine

Issue 213 November 2017

Catalonian masses fight nationalist reaction

Mass resistance erupted when Spain’s national security forces were deployed against Catalonians voting in an independence referendum. Hundreds of people were beaten up, ballot boxes forcibly removed, polling stations locked down by armed police and civil guards. All social forces are being drawn into a struggle which goes to the heart of the Spanish capitalist state. This is a statement by IZQUIERDA REVOLUCIONARIA (CWI Spain), published on 9 October 2017 and translated by Sarah Wrack.

The rebellion of the Catalan people on 1 October forced the Spanish capitalist regime and the conservative Partido Popular (PP) government onto the ropes, opening a revolutionary crisis in Catalonia. The reactionary forces wasted no time in their response, using all the methods at their disposal. With an absolute monopoly in the media and the state apparatus, they have launched a rabid campaign of Spanish nationalism to mobilise their social base.

The demonstration on Sunday 8 October in Barcelona was called by a collection of right-wing organisations – Catalan Civil Society backed by the PP, Ciudadanos (Citizens party), numerous small neo-fascist groups – to which were added the leaders of PSOE (former social democrats) and the PSC (PSOE’s Catalonian sister party). It amassed 400,000 people, many of them from outside Catalonia. This is a much smaller number to the historic mobilisations of 1 and 3 October, which brought millions of youth, workers and Catalan citizens onto the streets to exercise their democratic right to decide and against police repression.

The class struggle in Catalonia and the Spanish state has entered a decisive phase. The alliance woven from the monarchy, judiciary, the police and the army, with the PP, Ciudadanos and Pedro Sánchez’s PSOE, has been reinforced in recent days by the Catalan bourgeois, which has closed ranks against the aspirations of the Catalan people. The pressure of these days is tremendous, the noise is deafening but, even so, the Spanish nationalist reaction – which defends the interests of the capitalist oligarchy, the state inherited from Francoism, the most stale and backward elements of Spanish society – has not been able to win the majority of the people to their cause, much less so the working class.

However, there is a lot of confusion. This is because of the absence of a left-wing leadership putting forward a class position to give a way out to this revolutionary crisis to the benefit of the majority of the population. The Catalan national question has been converted into a powerful lever for social transformation, not only in Catalonia but also in the rest of the Spanish state. That is something that the Spanish and Catalan bourgeois understand perfectly well and because of this they have united their forces against the proclamation of a Catalan republic.

Conversely, the parliamentary left has either openly caved in before the right – as is the case with PSOE and the PSC – or has called for dialogue and an ‘agreed and legal’ referendum with the same state and government that, wrapped in the Spanish flag, plans a new repressive wave. In these crucial moments it is urgent to raise a left revolutionary alternative to combat the Spanish nationalist reaction and to help the Catalan masses to win the republic.

On 1 October millions of peaceful citizens, entire families and particularly young people resisted in exemplary fashion the brutal repression of thousands of national police and civil guards sent by the PP government to smash the right to decide of an entire people. Living scenes typical of a dictatorship, the police forces broke through with extreme violence to close polling stations and steal ballot boxes as trophies. That day will go in the history of so-called Spanish ‘democracy’ as an act of barbaric authoritarianism. But the most important thing about that day was not the police cruelty, with almost 1,000 injured people, but the image offered by a people without fear. They were determined to struggle until the end and have carried out a revolutionary movement unprecedented for the last 40 years.

The participation of more than two million people in the voting on 1 October represents a triumph of popular will, especially given that it took place in the middle of a police state of emergency. Few times in recent history have we witnessed such a high and widespread exercise of direct democracy, giving a result overwhelmingly in favour of the Catalan republic.

There then followed the great general strike of 3 October. The mobilisation in Catalonia was so massive that there is only one precedent in history of something similar: when the mass of the people and the workers of Catalonia came out on 18 and 19 July 1936 to combat the fascist state coup and succeeded in disarming the reactionary forces after hours of fierce fighting. That triumph opened the doors wide to the socialist revolution in republican territory, created organisations of workers’ power, militias, collectives, etc, and threatened the capitalist order across Europe.

Post-Franco betrayal

The movement of the Catalan masses in defence of their national-democratic rights, for a Catalan republic, against the centralist state repression and the politics of the Spanish-nationalist right, has created a revolutionary crisis in Catalonia. It is a crisis that points to a watershed for the political regime that the Spanish bourgeoisie created in the 1970s with the collaboration of the left-wing reformist leaders in the Partido Comunista de España (PCE), PSOE and the trade unions. It is necessary to point to what happened then, now that sections of the left are also talking about the exhaustion of that regime while offering as an alternative white flags, dialogue and conciliation.

After General Francisco Franco’s death in November 1975, the politicians of his dictatorship – Martin Villa, Adolfo Suárez and many others – converted into ‘new democrats’. Following the directives of Spanish and international capital, they arrived at an agreement with Felipe González (PSOE leader 1974-97) and Santiago Carrillo (PCE leader 1960-82) to abort a revolutionary situation in which the working class and youth of all territories were set against the forces of the dictatorship and capitalism.

This great pact – or great betrayal from the working class point of view – meant legal recognition of some of the liberties and democratic rights that had already been won by the popular mobilisation. In exchange, however, the Spanish bourgeois regained control of the situation and the monarchical regime imposed by Franco was accepted. The 1978 regime formally consecrated the ‘parliamentary monarchy’ but it was constructed around a law that guaranteed impunity for the crimes of Francoism. This allowed the state apparatus, the judiciary, police and military forces to remain in the hands of the entrenched reactionaries.

The constitution also guaranteed the ‘free market’ economy and the unquestionable power of the capitalists. It denied the right of self-determination to Catalonia, the Basque Country and Galicia. The constitutional text had to recognise so-called autonomy, but also consecrated the maxim of the dictatorship: ‘Spain: one, great and free’, the unity of the ‘homeland’. This was guaranteed through exceptional measures (Article 155) and recourse to the violence of the state. The arguments of the left-reformist leaders to accept this ‘agreement’ were those which they always use in a revolutionary situation to justify defeatism: the ‘noise of sabres’, the threat of a coup and an alleged unfavourable ‘balance of forces’.

Toeing the establishment line

After the current decisive days it can only be concluded that PSOE’s leadership has moved with weapons and baggage into the field of reaction. Pedro Sánchez has crawled behind PP prime minister Mariano Rajoy, backing up all his methods and, although appealing for dialogue, in practice contributing to the continued spread of Spanish chauvinism. Within PSOE, the sections that fought Sánchez in the primaries are manoeuvring loudly, as have Alfonso Guerra, Felipe González, Rodríguez Ibarra, and many others. Those who have tried to moderate their position, like the leaders of the PSC, have in practice also passed to the other side of the barricade. Not only did they appeal to the constitution to suspend the session of the Catalan parliament to stop the proclamation of a republic, they also called for participation in the Spanish nationalist demonstration in Barcelona.

By their deeds they will be known. Sánchez’s PSOE has thwarted any hope of a turn to the left after his triumph in the primaries. How can anyone pretend to be the left opposition while shamelessly participating in a demonstration in Barcelona together with the right and the far-right, brandishing the symbols of reaction and propping up their arguments? The image of Josep Borrell, a prominent PSOE figure, wrapped with the banner of Spanish nationalism and the symbols of the dictatorship, became the lodestar of the final rally at the 8 October demonstration, which claimed to defend the ‘rule of law’, as Xavier Albiol of the PP and Ciudadanos leaders Albert Rivera and Ines Arrimadas hurt their hands applauding him.

We have also witnessed the political wreck of leaders who are formally positioned to the left of social democracy, but who accuse the protesters of ‘a reactionary campaign’. These leaders, like Alberto Garzón, coordinator of Izquierda Unida, have called for ‘dialogue’, ‘agreement’, and for a referendum which is ‘legal and agreed’ with the Spanish state and its government – the same one that wields police batons and exceptional anti-democratic measures against the people of Catalonia.

It was a short time ago that Garzón wrote a book in which he claimed to be a communist and Marxist. But it is not enough to vindicate oneself, we must defend the programme and methods of Marxism in everyday life, especially when a political and social crisis opens up an exceptional opportunity for the advancement of class and revolutionary consciousness of the masses. With his speech, Garzón did not defend the programme of Marxism. In fact, he offered arguments to strengthen the campaign of reaction. Garzón says that he is Marxist. But in the crisis of Catalonia he draws an equivalence between the PP government and its actions, on the one hand, and the mass movement of the Catalan people in favour of their democratic rights, on the other.

The principle of the Marxist dialectic is clear: truth is always concrete. It has not been the Catalan government president Carles Puigdemont or PDeCAT (Catalan European Democratic Party), led by Artur Mas, that has put the regime of 1978 in check, but the revolutionary movement of the Catalan masses. In fact, the different political formations of the Catalan bourgeoisie have been pillars of capitalist stability, successively supporting the earlier governments of Felipe González (PSOE) and José María Aznar (PP), all the while clearly defending the interests of the Catalan oligarchy.

It is certain that the turn towards Catalan independence by Mas, Puigdemont, PDeCAT and the Catalan parliament represented, at the time, a political manoeuvre to divert attention from their policies of cuts, and to neutralise the great social response that had been unleashed against them in the streets. It is also absolutely clear that the position of the CUP (Popular Unity Candidacy) and ERC (Republican Left of Catalonia), giving parliamentary support to PDeCAT to apply its neoliberal agenda in exchange for being kept in the independence bloc, is a complete error.

Equally mistaken – or more wrong considering what is at stake – is that, when Puigdemont and PDeCAT are completely surpassed by a movement of the masses that has opened a revolutionary crisis threatening the regime of 1978, Garzón and many others fail to support that movement. Instead, they accuse it of being reactionary and implore Rajoy and Puigdemont to settle the problem by sitting down to negotiate.

Alberto Garzón reiterated his position on the same day as the Spanish nationalist demonstration of 8 October in Barcelona. He said that only with "Rajoy and Puigdemont sitting down for dialogue will some of the tension be solved" in Catalonia. He described the situation as "very dangerous because of the lack of dialogue, which is even provoking economic tensions". What does this have to do with the position of Marx and Lenin towards national oppression and revolution? It has nothing to do with it! But a lot to do with Santiago Carrillo’s position in 1976-78, when the leadership of the PCE – then the mass working-class party – called for dialogue and consensus with the Spanish bourgeoisie and the heirs of the Francoist dictatorship to abort a revolutionary situation that was getting out of hand.

National and class oppression

The revolutionary crisis in Catalonia has been driven by two major political factors. First, the national oppression by the Spanish bourgeoisie and its centralist state, which refuses to recognise that Catalonia is a nation and in repressive ways rejects the exercise of the right to self-determination. Second, the frustration generated by the capitalist crisis: mass unemployment, evictions, precariousness and low salaries, and the lack of a future for young people. The struggle against national and class oppression has combined – like at other times (1909, 1931, 1934, 1936, 1977) – generating a revolutionary potential that has challenged the forms of political domination of the Spanish capitalist regime.

More than one hundred years ago Lenin wrote a magnificent text, The Right of Nations to Self-Determination. This set out the position of revolutionary Marxists on this issue. Supporting the struggle for the right to self-determination of oppressed nations, as in Catalonia, is a duty for Marxists. In this fight, however, we do not subordinate ourselves to the ruling class of the oppressed nation, in this case the Catalan bourgeois, nor to their political representatives of the moment, the PDeCAT. Rather, at the same time as we advocate this right – which obviously includes the right to independence – we link it to the defence of a revolutionary programme for the socialist transformation of society.

The current crisis in Catalonia, like in other periods of history, has opened up the possibility of winning a Catalan republic through revolutionary methods based on the direct action of the people, the youth and workers. This is what terrifies the Catalan bourgeois who have quickly given an ultimatum to the masses: abandon your revolutionary pretensions or we will unleash economic chaos and plunge you into misery. This is exactly the same as the reaction of the Greek and European bourgeois against the Greek people.

In order to carry out their threats they have obtained the rapid assistance of the PP government. Within 24 hours it approved a law to facilitate the transfer of the headquarters of companies out of Catalonia. Such is bourgeois legality. They say it is impossible to change the law to recognise the rights of the Catalan people to decide their future. Yet, to satisfy the Catalan, Spanish or European capitalists, the law is changed in the blink of an eye!

Don’t all of these acts make you want to reflect, ‘comrade’ Garzón? What conclusion can be drawn from the alliance between the Catalan and Spanish bourgeoisie to avoid the proclamation of the Catalan republic? What is the alternative of self-professed communist Garzón, the leadership of the IU or Podemos before this alliance? That Rajoy and Puigdemont sit down to talk? That the Catholic Church acts as mediator?

Garzón and others who defend his position say that they are Marxists and even Leninists. But where and when did Lenin advocate an agreement with the Russian bourgeoisie or with the tsarist regime to gain the right of self-determination of Ukraine, Finland, or the Baltic countries? Lenin and the Bolsheviks united the masses of the nations oppressed under tsarism and the workers of the oppressor nation, ‘Great Russia’. They inscribed on their banner the right to self-determination, including independence, together with the struggle for the overthrow of the capitalist order – for socialism.

What does this position have to do with calling on the people of Catalonia to demobilise, abandon the street and return to their homes, leaving calm bourgeois politicians to resolve the conflict? That is the position of a scab, not a revolutionary Marxist. Garzón and other leaders of the IU and Podemos advocate a ‘constitutional process’, even by the ‘federal republic’. They do not clarify what class orientation, capitalist or socialist, the constitutional process or federal republic should have. But beyond that, how do you intend to impose that process or that republic? By agreement with the Francoist state and the PP? By reaching consensus with the Spanish bourgeoisie?

The proclamation of the republic on 14 April 1931 was the result of the revolutionary action of the masses in the cities and the countryside which brought down the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera. With strikes and mass mobilisations throughout 1930 and 1931, they put King Alfonso XIII on his way to exile. The proclamation of the republic, which was accepted by the capitalists and the bourgeoisie as a lesser evil, could not contain the workers’ movement, the landless peasants and the youth from moving towards socialist revolution.

For a socialist republic

This historical analogy has its importance because a Catalan republic won through revolutionary action would necessarily involve a frontal struggle against the PDeCAT and Puigdemont, against the political and economic oligarchy that has governed Catalonia with the same neoliberal policies as the PP. It would turn the battle directly against capitalist oppression through mass action. It would open the door to a government of the left that should immediately end cuts and confront the dictatorship of the Catalan and Spanish economic powers, nationalising the banking and the big companies. The Catalan, Spanish, French and European capitalists know this perfectly well and this is why they are trying to crush the movement with all the means at their disposal.

The balance of forces in Catalonia continues to be favourable to the people, workers and youth who have shown their determination to go to the end in the struggle against political repression and for a Catalan republic. It is absolutely necessary to respond to the state and the PP government with the same audacity as on 1 and 3 October, increasing the mobilisation and winning all those sections of the Catalan working class which still hesitate but which also reject the reactionary offensive. This is only possible with a programme that links the proclamation of the Catalan republic to socialist measures for the benefit of the population.

Izquierda Revolucionaria (CWI Spain) calls on the leadership of the CUP, En Comú Podem (the electoral alliance of Podemos, left, environmental and citizen activist groups), ERC, the student movement and their organisations (Sindicato de Estudiantes, SEPC), the workers’ movement and their trade unions in Catalonia, to establish a left united front. This needs to be based on the referendum defence committees and on all the bodies that have been emerging in Catalonia, to organise committees for the republic in workplaces and factories, neighbourhoods, schools and colleges. The aim should be to coordinate them in order to boost the movement with increasingly bold actions, preparing an indefinite general strike capable of resisting any violent action by the state and winning a Catalan republic with a left-wing government. This left front must break any subordination to the Catalan right, the PDeCAT or Puigdemont, and must call for the active solidarity of the workers’ movement and youth in the rest of the Spanish state.

The leadership of Unidos Podemos should radically change its orientation. It must stop imploring Rajoy to negotiate, the Spanish state to concede an agreed referendum, or that PSOE puts a new motion of censure against the PP. All these requests have already been rejected, while reaction prepares to increase the repression and put the Catalan people on their knees.

The only way to clarify the situation, to end the confusion, to unite the workers and youth of the rest of the state with their class brothers and sisters in Catalonia, is through mass mobilisation against the PP government. This is the task of all of the left and all conscious activists. This is also the responsibility of the leadership of Unidos Podemos, Pablo Iglesias and Ada Colau, who in these critical moments must go to the demonstrations and directly appeal to workers and youth, especially at the base of the CCOO (Workers’ Commissions) and the UGT trade union federation, with a clear message to fight against reaction.

The Spanish and Catalan ruling classes view the proclamation of a Catalan republic with fear, and the reason is not only because it would break the idea of ‘Spain: one, great and free’. They know that this victory by the people would be a prelude to an even more intense and broad struggle in favour of the oppressed, against the domination of the capitalists, against the established social order – and for a socialist republic in Catalonia and a socialist republic based on a free and voluntary union of the peoples and nations that currently compose the Spanish state. This is a struggle that is already winning active solidarity from the oppressed masses of Europe and the whole world.

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