The SWP is quite right to support the right of the people of Catalonia to determine their own future. Most of the mainstream media frames the question as “Should Catalonia break away from Spain?” In fact the real question is, “Should the people of Catalonia have the right to separate from Spain if they want to?”
The “illegal” referendum was organised because the Spanish Constitution makes it virtually impossible to hold one “legally”. And the brutal repression we have witnessed has probably created a majority in Catalonia for independence even if one did not exist before.
Lenin can teach us something on this issue. He was an internationalist, of course. But he understood that unity between workers in different countries could not be based on forcing a minority nation to be part of a bigger state or empire. He therefore advocated the right of nations to self-determination, in contrast to the oppression of nationalities imposed both by Tsarist Russia before 1917 and by Stalin’s state capitalist tyranny following the bureaucratic counter-revolution in the 1920s.
We should not equate the nationalism of the oppressed with the nationalism of the oppressor, and the Spanish state is clearly showing itself to be the oppressor.
As Lenin wrote, “To accuse those who support freedom of self-determination, ie the freedom to secede, of encouraging separatism, is as foolish and hypocritical as accusing those who advocate the freedom of divorce of encouraging the destruction of family ties.”
To deny the right to secede “means nothing more than defence of the privileges of the dominant nation and police methods of administration, to the detriment of democratic methods.”