Letter from Catalonia

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A protest for Catalan independence in Barcelona

It’s important for the left to understand what’s at stake in the independence debate, writes David Karvala.

On 1 October 2017 Catalonia is to hold a referendum on the question “Do you want Catalonia to become an independent state in the form of a republic?”

The Spanish state aims at all costs to stop the vote, with administrative and judicial measures as well as covert operations.

Catalonia is a nation of around 7.5 million people at the eastern end of the Iberian Peninsula.

The growing discontent with Catalonia’s situation as an “autonomous community” in the Spanish state led the then Socialist president of Catalonia, Pasqual Maragall, to attempt to reform Catalonia’s autonomy statute in 2005. It was the sabotage of this initiative by the Spanish Conservative Party, the PP — culminating in a 2010 Spanish Constitutional Court ruling against the mildly reformed statute that had already been approved in a referendum — that turned the pro-independence feeling into a mass movement.

The day after that court ruling, on 10 July 2010, a million-strong demonstration in Barcelona responded, “We are a nation. We decide.”

One misconception is that independence is promoted by the Catalan bourgeoisie. The centre-right Catalanist coalition Convergència i Unió governed the country for more than two decades but never proposed independence. The growth of the movement led Convergència’s leaders to try to surf the wave so as not to be engulfed by it. They were pressured by their base, which is not big capital, but rather the petty bourgeoisie or the “middle class” in a sociological sense.

The real Catalan bourgeoisie firmly opposes independence — they want stability, not the uncertainty of a break with the Spanish state.

Since 2010 there have been half a dozen massive pro-independence mobilisations, of one to two million people each, in a country of 7.5 million.

The movement is weaker in Barcelona’s industrial periphery, which had mass Spanish speaking immigration in the 1950s and 1960s, but even here the mood for independence is growing.

In several of these towns, joint candidacies of the anticapitalist independentist CUP and forces around Podemos were very successful in the May 2015 municipal elections. Such a candidacy governs Badalona, Catalonia’s third biggest city.

This confirms something that became clear in Scotland: in order to win independence and for it to respond to people’s hopes, it must go hand in hand with real social change.

This is the current trend. The centre-right Convergència (now rebranded as PedeCat following massive corruption scandals) is losing ground to the centre-left Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC). ERC in turn has lost supporters to the anticapitalist and independentist CUP.

Several measures introduced by the current Catalan government (led by PedeCat and ERC) also reflect this: measures to guarantee energy supplies to poor families in winter, against evictions and for social housing; a ban on fracking; a tax on nuclear power; a law promoting women’s equality at work and against sexual harassment; a ban on bullfighting. All have been overturned by the Spanish Constitutional Court, following demands by the PP.

The PP — sadly with the support of the Spanish Socialist Party — is intensifying the repression. Leading Catalan politicians have been put on trial for promoting a referendum.

A third of Catalonia’s municipalities are under investigation for “offences” like opening their offices on “the day of the Spanish race”, a public holiday created by Franco. One councillor was dragged before a special anti-terror court in Madrid for declaring that “you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs”. They will stop at nothing to try to impede a democratic vote.

The left in Catalonia has the challenge of fighting for the referendum and a yes vote while maintaining its own independence from the right.

However, part of the left supports the attack on the referendum. They talk about internationalism and workers’ solidarity but seem to forget Lenin’s insistence that internationalism meant defending the rights of “the oppressed (or small) nation”.

For socialists elsewhere, the question is simple. Will you stand by while a right wing party (and some allies on the “left” who should know better) tramples on democracy?

Or, knowing the contradictions of any national movement, will you give internationalist solidarity to the Catalan people’s right to decide their future, and ideally in the process helping to break apart one of Europe’s historic imperialist states?

David Karvala is an activist based in Barcelona and a member of the revolutionary network Marx21. He will be speaking with others on Solidarity with Catalonia: should the Left support independence? (follow link for details)