Catalonia: pushing the Spanish state into crisis

The struggle for Catalan independence is pushing the Spanish state into an unprecedented political crisis. On 9 November (9-N), 2.3 million people (out of an electorate of 5.4 million) participated in a symbolic vote on Catalan self-determination, with 80.1% declaring in favour of Catalonia becoming an independent state. Those who exercised their democratic rights did so in defiance of the Spanish Constitutional Court, which had suspended the official vote, and of a hostile central government, which declared the ballot illegal. The Director of Public Prosecutions has now filed criminal charges against Catalan President Artur Mas for defying a court order and wasting public funds. The Catalan government, along with other parties, is now calling for early ‘plebiscite elections’ to the Catalan Parliament, which, if a pro-independence majority is returned, will proceed to a unilateral declaration of Catalan independence. The complete inability of the Spanish state to meet the most basic democratic and social needs of the working class is becoming clearer every day.

The 9-N referendum

Since the onset of the brutal neoliberal response to the economic crisis and the Partido Popular government’s attack on Catalonia’s statute of autonomy in 2010, the movement for Catalan independence has been driven by a massive grassroots social mobilisation. On Catalonia’s national day on 11 September this year, more than 1.5 million people took to the streets of Barcelona to demand self-determination. Over 80% of people support a referendum on the right to decide, and one in two favour full independence.

The symbolic vote on 9-N marked the latest peaceful display of mass civil. Despite the watered down form of the vote after the refusal of President Artur Mas to disobey the orders of the Constitutional Court, the day still marked a historic moment. From working class barrios in Barcelona and Sabadell to villages in the foothills of the Pyrenees, millions of people were determined to defy the anti-democratic dictates of Madrid. Many arrived early to counter the possible threat of police arriving to remove ballot boxes. With the Generalitat (Catalan government) banned from providing institutional support, over 40,000 volunteers manned polling stations to ensure the day could proceed.

The response of the central government was been total contempt. In the lead up to 9-N, the Interior Ministry sent 450 riot police to Catalonia ‘to strengthen the security of state buildings’. As polls closed, Spanish Justice Minister Rafael Catala defined the vote as ‘useless and sterile’. On 19 November, Chief of Spain’s Army Defence Staff Dominguez Buez stated in an interview that the army is ‘a tool’ with which the Spanish government will defend the constitution.

The Constitution

Throughout this entire process, it is the constitution which the Spanish state has wielded as its primary defence. For the Spanish bourgeoisie, now as in Franco’s time, the constitution above all else preserves the unity of the Spanish nation. As a recent Constitutional Court ruling declared: ‘Only the Spanish people is sovereign in an exclusive and indivisible way. No fraction of this population can be considered sovereign.’ Therefore any move towards Catalan independence is automatically unconstitutional, undemocratic and illegal.

The truth is that the constitution of 1978, the basis for today’s ‘democratic Spain’, is the product of a historic compromise with the Franco dictatorship, ensuring the continuity of the basic institutions of fascism under the ‘democratic’ leadership of the restored monarch King Juan Carlos. Under the pressure of economic collapse, massive corruption scandals, the disgrace of the royal family and the re-emergence of the class struggle, together with the national aspirations of the Basque and Catalan peoples, the entire rotten structure of the Spanish kingdom is coming apart.

The PSOE especially, Spain’s historic social democratic party and, with the PP, a pillar of the monarchic two-party system, is in a state of collapse. Threatened by the meteoric rise of new left forces such as Podemos, and with a leadership committed to supporting the PP in both its economic measures and opposition to Catalan self-determination, the PSOE’s working class base is being annihilated.

Bourgeois nationalism

However, the current confrontation between the CIU (the conservative nationalist party of Artur Mas) and the Spanish government masks the fact that both parties have been equally central to the regime of the past four decades, and equally ruthless in their neoliberal attacks on the working class.

The CIU, with the support of supposedly more radical parties such as the old Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC), has ruthlessly imposed massive public spending cuts, devastating privatisations in health care and the violent repression of social movements. Representing the interests of Catalan regional elites and the nationalist middle class, such parties are determined to prove themselves reliable partners of international finance capital, a ‘normal state’ capable of imposing EU and IMF dictates. They have attempted, often successfully, to divert anger at their own social policies into a narrative of ‘Espanya ens roba’ (Spain robs us), blaming Madrid for every problem.

Despite the current escalation, the CIU has repeatedly exposed its willingness to betray the overwhelming popular mandate for self-determination. Catalan interior minister Ramon Espadaler, a leading member of the CIU government, admitted on 6 November that Catalonia’s Mossos d’Esquadra police force would have to obey orders and prevent any vote on independence if ordered to by the central judge and prosecutors office. On 30 September, Mossos viciously beat young pro-independence leftists attempting to set up a camp in opposition to attempts to ban the referendum. Now, it is attempting to divert growing calls for mass disobedience and struggle into ‘plebiscite elections’ and a continuation of the legal and political grandstanding which serves only themselves.

The revolutionary road

The current crisis offers possibilities for real revolutionary developments, a movement which links national freedom with the struggle against the monarchy, against the reimbursement of the Troika-imposed debt, based on the interests of the working class and popular layers being immiserated by the crisis of capitalism. While the huge co-ordinated displays of Catalan nationalism have been impressive, the real work of building an authentic struggle for self-determination is being fought in the working class barrios where Catalan and Spanish-speaking workers, alongside migrants from Senegal, Morocco and Latin America stand with unemployed youth defending social centres from eviction and women rising up against poverty wages and oppression. On 22 October, radical social forces from the independence movement organised the Vaga de Totes – the ‘strike of everyone’ –carrying out direct actions, marches and occupations, led by working class women declaring: ‘Women move the world! Now we stop!’ On 20 November, the anniversary of Franco’s death, up to a thousand people confronted Catalan riot police protecting Spanish government buildings. Under the banner Disobedencia2014, they were protesting against the draconian laws which seek not only to criminalise all forms of protest, but increase racist laws against migrants in the Spanish colonies of Melilla and Cueta in North Africa. As the saying goes, ‘When injustice becomes law, resistance becomes necessity.’

The slogan of the pro-independence left must become a reality: independence “para que todo cambie” (so as to change everything).

Joey Simons


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