Catalonia: The national question, the European Union and the limits of capitalism


Part of Huge Catalan Demonstration

Debate centres on question of EU following massive human chain in favour of independence on 11 September

On 11 September (la Diada, Catalan national holiday), up to 1.6 million Catalans took part in a massive human chain from one end of Catalonia to the other, to demand independence from the Spanish state. This follows last year’s annual Diada demonstration in which over a million participated. This massive mobilization reflected the depth and continuation of the process of growth in support for Catalan independence.

However, it also comes as events serve to clarify the contradictions in the situation, as Catalonia’s right-wing nationalist government [led by the CiU party] sets its sights on ‘moderation’ and the mending of bridges with the Spanish government, having made clear that it is not willing to really confront Spanish capitalism to fight for the right to decide on Catalonias future by referendum (which up to 80% of Catalonia’s population supports in opinion polls). However, the massive mobilization for the Via Catalana shows the existence of an underlying process which CiU is failing to steer according to its interests.

Reflecting the fear of Spanish and European capitalism before the situation, the mobilization was followed by an intense debate on the hypothetical membership of an independent Catalonia of the European Union – stated aim of both CiU and ERC (Republican Left, a social-democratic pro-independence party). Leading figures in the European Commission have repeatedly stated in the last weeks that an independent Catalonia would automatically be ejected from the EU, having to re-apply and on top of it all, gain Spanish consent to be re-admitted as a member!

On 12 October, another mass demonstration (albeit much smaller than that of 11 September) took to the streets of Barcelona, to oppose independence. This mobilization, built for by the PP and Ciutadans (catalan anti-independence party) and including many who had travelled from other parts of the Spanish state, also shows the danger of a polarization developing in society and among the working class along national lines at a time when united and militant struggle against the bosses must be the order of the day. Only a mass workers’ movement to unite the struggle against austerity in all regions, around a socialist program which defends the right of self-determination, can decisively cut across this danger. Socialismo Revolucionario (CWI in Spain) fights to defend the right to self-determination of Catalonia, including the right to independence, and for a socialist confederation of workers’ republics in the Iberian peninsula. A socialist Catalonia would guarantee full rights to all minorities and remain in fraternal confederation with the rest of the peoples of the Spanish state.

Below we publish a slightly edited article from the autumn edition of La Brecha, paper of Socialismo Revolucionario in Spain, which analyses the debate over independence and the EU, and its significance for perspectives in Catalonia and Spain in the next period.

Following the undisputed success of the ’Via Catalana’ human chain on 11 September, the European Commission has “impartially” intervened again to remind us of the consequences of Catalonia’s separation from the Spanish state in terms of its EU membership.

There is no doubt that, behind these declarations lies the pressure from the Rajoy government which obviously will use all its weight to block the possibility of the Catalan people deciding about their own future. But the Commission’s position does not only reflect this.

Big business internationally and world capitalism under today’s conditions does not welcome the idea of new democratic “sovereignties”, which endanger their cherished political “stability” and upset the markets, thus undermining the stability of their profits. In a certain sense, the demand for sovereignty (i.e. the right to decide on its own future) for Catalonia goes against the predominant trend of world and European capitalism, which currently seeks to extinguish many remnants of national sovereignty, especially that of smaller nations.

In this way, the EU’s intervention into the Catalan debate corresponds with its character as a structure in the service of capitalism and its multinationals.

For this reason, they are forced to increasingly intervene in the situation as it becomes more and more radicalized. It is no accident that their strongest declarations came following the massive display of strength of the Via Catalana. Although they attempt to emphasize “legal” arguments linked to EU treaties, their declarations are obviously more political than “judicial”.

Contradictions of pro-capitalist nationalist position

But if the EU’s declarations have been interesting, the reaction of the capitalist parties (CiU and ERC) who consider themselves pilots of the process in Catalonia has been even more so.

Both CiU and ERC have attempted to undermine the importance of the EU’s position, more or less rejecting its credibility and making appeals to the “democratic spirit” of the EU (has anyone proof of the existence of such a spirit?), and stressing the economic importance of Catalonia and the necessity for Spanish capitalism of Cataloniia being in the EU, based on the idea that Europe “just cannot do without” Catalonia…

The position adopted by CiU and ERC actually exposes some of the contradictions of their position in favour of independence today, mainly as it shows that neither party has any credible response to such a hypothetical situation (an independent Catalonia outside the EU).

Under the current conditions, there is no way that the neo-liberal right wing CiU (composed of a now unstable coalition between the pro-independence CDC, and federalist UDC) would consent to a Catalan exit from the European Union. This would mean economic suicide for the class which they represent (big bankers and industrialists). UDC (led by Duran Lleida, who has openly spoken out against independence) in particular understands this and even says it openly, but the CDC leaders including Catalan President, Artur Mas, also understand it. The only difference is that they can’t say it publically as it would expose their dishonesty and inconsistency.

ERC’s position is somewhat different. Its pro-independence position is clearly more radical and genuine, but is also not consequent when faced with the contradictions of its position. The fundamental argument of ERC is that an independent Catalonia would have more resources because of the “fiscal deficit” in relation to what it pays and receives from the Spanish government, which according to them is the root of all Catalonia’s problems. With this money under Catalan control, the country would have more instruments ready to combat the crisis, opening up the possibility of progressive measures to make society more just. Of course, they never articulate measures which would pose a challenge to capitalism fundamentally, only seeking to make it more human and less savage. In fact, ERC is not even on record as opposing austerity, and indeed supports the austerity of the CiU government by voting it through in parliament! The ultimate unviability of this soft social-democratic rhetoric has already been exposed by the rule of the troika in Southern Europe. In the current situation, there is no space for a “Keynesian” policy in the capitalist EU, which imposes a unique policy of brutal austerity.

In this lies one of the important contradictions in ERC’s position. On the one hand, from the point of view of capitalism at present, it is better to remain in the EU than be kicked out. Confronted with this, ERC have no response to a situation in which an independent capitalist Catalonia finds itself outside the EU – they cannot imagine a Catalonia outside the EU, so just dismiss the possibility. If they arrive to the stage of having to decide between independence and EU membership, they have nothing to say! It is a decision that they cannot make.

On the other hand, even if a capitalist Catalonia could remain in the EU, the economic policies which they propose are not realizable in that context. When the troika rules, there is no margin of manoeuvre for even limited Keynesian policies (which would by no means solve the crisis of capitalism anyway). If you have doubts about this, then ask Zapatero or Francois Hollande. The elimination of Catalonia’s fiscal deficit with Spain would not end austerity in a capitalist Catalonia.

In reality, independence, or any genuine excercise of self-determination in Catalonia is unlikely to be a viable scenario on a capitalist basis. Even though the chief protagonist in the current process is the people of Catalonia, at the moment its main political leadership is of the capitalist parties, who in any case, are not prepared to take the struggle for self-determination to its ultimate consequences. The Catalan capitalist class have disgracefully shown their tendency to betray the Catalan people before capitalist Spain more than once in the last century. And as we have said, the world capitalist class is also hostile to the idea of any independence which undermines its stability. An independent capitalist Catalan state cannot be ruled out, as there is no impossible concession for capitalism to make when faced with unbreakable pressure, but it remains a very unlikely viable scenario especially due to the political domination of bourgeois parties at this stage

The existence of “nations without a state” in Europe and elsewhere is a product of a capitalist process – the creation of nation-states – which was not finished satisfactorily by the capitalists’ own revolution. In places like the Spanish state, the task of solving the “national question” is not completed, which is reflected in the repeated “national” or territorial crises which accompany all serious crises of Spanish capitalism. However, Spanish capitalism has already shown that it is not up to the task of really solving this question. We sustain that it can only be lastingly solved by revolutionary means.

The working class is the only class that can currently solve this historic anomaly and it can only do it through a process of struggle which develops in a revolutionary direction and can break with the limits of capitalism. Any struggle to achieve genuine self-determination has to also be a struggle against the capitalist leadership of the current pro-independence “movement” and against capitalism as a whole, struggling for a socialist alternative of workers’ democracy.

And this social change must obviously be approached from a profoundly internationalist point of view. The class struggle serves to clarify society’s contradictions, and ultimately united struggle undermines and shows the uselessness of tensions and animosity between national peoples which ultimately are a product of scarcity and the “competition” for resources which characterizes capitalism and class society. Having reached the stage of a Catalonia which achieves independence not only from “Spain” but from capitalism, the main tendency would not be towards separation and fragmentation, but on the contrary towards voluntary cooperation and confederation on the basis of shared sovereignty over wealth and resources.

This alternative, of a voluntary socialist confederation of the Iberian peninsula, and of the whole of Europe (as an alternative to the capitalist EU), is that which SR (CWI in Spain) defends.

A necessary united struggle of workers and youth against the Troika and capitalism internationally can plant the seeds of such an internationalist solution, the only one which can be lasting.

The workers’ parties have a key role to play in this process, to struggle to rob the protagonism in the situation from capitalist parties like CiU, ERC, PP, PSOE etc etc. The CUP and IU must take this into account and take advantage of any opportunity to expose the contradictions inherent in CiU and ERC’s position.