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Socialist Democracy statement on Catalonia

21 November 2017

As with Scotland and Brexit, the events in Catalonia have produced confusion on the left. Podemos, the great reformist hope of yesterday, came out firmly on the side of the Spanish state. Other leftists seemed to offer uncritical support to the capitalist leaders of Catalan nationalism.

This is an ongoing problem. The socialist movement has always had many currents and sharp differences, but has usually shared a common method of class analysis. With the retreat of the workers movement following the fall of the USSR and the retreat of the socialist movement itself, many socialists seem unable to fulfil the traditional role of providing analysis and proposing a line of march for working class activists.

General principles

Marxist analysis begins with the abstract. The basic principle is that we stand always and everywhere for the unity and independence of the working class across the globe.

We also stand for the utmost autonomy of workers, individually and in collectives. Anyone who wishes to separate should be free to do so. The repression of national and democratic rights should be utterly opposed.

These principles are two sides of the same coin. If workers, groups, nations seek independence then obstructing that demand would involve force - automatically ruling out workers unity.

However support for the right to self-determination is not the same as advocating national independence in all cases. Generally greater concentrations of capital also allows a larger concentration and organization of workers.

Self determination is a necessity in the case of oppressed nations, as with the Irish question, we advocate the exercise of national self-determination and support the struggle to achieve this. Unity of workers across national boundaries cannot be achieved if one nation rests a jackboot on the throat of another. Fundamentally defining national oppression must at base have an economic component. One nation is suppressing the economy of another, preventing economic development and thus restricting the development of the working class.

We do not fall in behind capitalist representatives of nationalism, although we defend them against imperialist attack. Always the independent action of the working class around their own programme of socialist revolution comes first. Even in the extreme case of a direct conflict with imperialism the workers should organise independently around the struggle for a workers republic. If they do not, they will be used as cannon fodder and then be betrayed.

The case of Catalonia

But abstractions have to be applied to concrete situations. What does all of the above mean in relation to Catalonia?

It means that socialists should unreservedly support the right of Catalonia to self determination and utterly oppose the repression of the Spanish police, the suspension of Catalonian democratic institutions by the Spanish state and the jailing of nationalist politicians by the judiciary. The fact that all these things have happened shows the utter bankruptcy of the post-Franco political settlement. As the situation has unfolded, it has also demonstrated the total bankruptcy of both the European institutions and the component states in relation to the defence of democratic rights.

However making the case that the solution to the present repression is independence and that   this is in the interests of workers in Catalonia and across Spain is a more complex issue. There is no doubting the repression from the Spanish state and there are complaints of cultural oppression, but is this national oppression? Is the relationship between the two such that Catalonian economic development is stunted and suppressed in the interests of the Spanish state? This does not seem to be the case.

We must also take into account the broader context. This is not an age of revolutions, where revolutionary democratic forces and revolutionary socialists march side by side. Rather we see the rise of right-wing populism, of national chauvinism, of fragmentation of the working class.

It may be, at some distance and with limited information, that we are mistaken and that in addition to the very real repression oppression of the Spanish state the issue of national rights is in reality the major issue. Even in that case, while we would defend Puigdemont and his supporters, we would not politically support someone so clearly opposed to the rights of workers. In any case the programme of Puigdemont is for a fantasy independence with the blessing of the European Union and he has steadfastly refused to take any concrete action to establish an independent state.

Many on the left dispute this analysis. They argue that fragmentation of Europe and of the constituent states would weaken capitalism and enhance the power of the workers. However applying this argument in Scotland led to the collapse of the left and hegemony for the Scottish National Party. Even when the referendum failed and support for the SNP fell back it was British conservativism that gained. Working class regroupment is proceeding slowly around the left of the British Labour party.

What is mostly clearly demonstrated by the events in Catalonia is the failure of the constitutional settlement set up in the aftermath of Franco, and this is an issue for all Spanish workers.

The task of socialists is to put forward a programme for these workers. Long ago Leon Trotsky argued for an Iberian confederation of socialist states embedded in a United Socialist States of Europe. This is our starting point today.

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