Catalonia: Competing Nationalisms against the Working Class

Catalonia: Competing Nationalisms against the Working Class

The conflict between the factions defending the existing Spanish state and those seeking a separate Catalonian state continues to accelerate. Whatever the outcome or the detailed twists and turns it is clear that class-conscious workers need to be equally independent from those arguing for either a separate Catalan state or the preservation of the existing state order – both represent the façade behind which the bosses’ class exercise their control.

The conflict between the factions defending the existing Spanish state and those seeking a separate Catalonian state continues to accelerate. Whatever the outcome or the detailed twists and turns it is clear that class-conscious workers need to be equally independent from those arguing for either a separate Catalan state or the preservation of the existing state order – both represent the façade behind which the bosses’ class exercise their control.

Nationalist Manoeuvring

The latest stage in the ratcheting up of the competing nationalist projects began at the beginning of September when the Catalan parliament approved a motion calling for a referendum on independence to be held on 1 October. The Spanish government declared the decision unconstitutional, based on the Spanish Constitution of 1978 which upholds ‘the indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation’ – a settlement that aimed at firmly controlling any echoes of local separatism that appeared during the Civil War in the 1930s. However, the Catalan Government decided to press on with their proposal hoping to cash in on years of fostering Catalan separatism.

On 20 September the Spanish state launched Operation Anubis – an attempt to prevent the referendum from taking place which included the raiding of Catalan government offices, arresting officials and confiscating ballot papers. This culminated in open state violence by the Spanish State forces around the day that the referendum was held. Protests against this violence took place in Catalonia but at this stage we have no information of any major protests elsewhere in Spain. Instead we have seen massive demonstrations of Spanish nationalism in Madrid and elsewhere – an obvious illustration of nationalism cutting across working class unity.

The events of 1 October galvanised nationalist tendencies on both sides. According to the Catalan regional authorities, 91.96% voted yes to an independent Catalan republic, but overall turnout was low at 42.58%. The day of the vote was marred by turmoil, as the Policia Nacional and the Guardia Civil attempted to close down polling stations. 893 injured civilians revealed the violence inherent within the democratic state – some commentators, among them, ironically, Nicolás Maduro, drew comparisons between the actions of Mariano Rajoy’s government and Francoist Spain. Afterwards, the European Commission declared that ‘under the Spanish Constitution, the 1 October vote in Catalonia was not legal’ and that they trust ‘the leadership of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to manage this difficult process’. 1

Following the September crackdown by the Spanish state, the CGT, followed by the CNT and other small unions, seized the opportunity and called a general strike for 3 October. After the events of 1 October, Spain's biggest unions, the UGT and CCOO, as well as the Catalan independence association (ANC) instead announced what may be best described as a citizen’s walkout – their statement read: ’We call on all of society, on employers' organisations, business owners, unions, workers, self-employed workers, institutions and all the citizens of Catalonia to stop the 'country' on Tuesday, October 3’. The strike on 3 October hit public transport, two major ports, and the agrarian sector. 2 Whether as part of the citizen’s walkout or the general strike call-out, whether motivated by nationalism or anger at the police, workers reacted to the events. It remains unclear how far the reports of local assemblies reflect sparks of working class self-organisation or whether they were creations of the local bourgeois establishment to act as a “stage army” favouring the separatists’ agenda.

Since the beginning of the October both the state machines based in Madrid and Barcelona have justified their own positions claiming that their respective constitutional positions outweigh the others. It would be a fatal mistake if workers in Catalonia or the rest of Spain are dragooned behind either of the competing arguments. Behind the lawyers’ debates about “angels on pinheads” lies the reality of ruling class factions seeking to extend their own ability to exploit the working class – totally irrespective of accidents of birth, nationality or heritage.

The Internationalist Response

The events in Catalonia have to be understood within the context of capitalism’s long term economic crisis which culminated in a financial crash in 2007 from which there has been no real recovery. This has increasingly led local sections of the capitalist class to think they could manage the economy better than the central state. This in turn has produced a global shift towards nationalism and populism. In an economy which still has not recovered ten years after the bubble of speculation burst, the ruling class is running out of ideas and is divided on how to get out of it. The attempt to shift the blame onto the central Spanish government by the Catalan government, to rally workers behind the separatist programme, is supposed to conceal the fact that certain sections of the Catalan ruling class (which is also split on the issue) has been just as responsible for enacting austerity measures as the government in Madrid.

As we have said many times, national liberation does nothing but divide the working class and leaves workers at the mercy of their own national bourgeoisie. Where the various national factions have spread nationalist delusions we argue for the local working class to stand against both sides of the argument around these projects. The examples of this are countless (including recent ones like Ukraine 3, Scotland 4 or Kurdistan 5). Even as we write, the referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan is being used to prepare the next chapter of death and suffering around struggle for resources in the Turkey/Syria/Iraq cauldron.

As internationalists, we argue that the only alternative to the social and environmental devastation offered by capitalism is that workers unite across borders for a common goal: a world without classes and states, where ‘the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all’. For this we need an international organisation, a party, which can effectively intervene in events such as the strike in Catalonia – to push the struggle beyond the control of unions and institutional parties, and declare independence from all strata of the ruling class, whatever their nationality.

If and when there are movements towards neighbourhood or workplace assemblies then the arguments must be made to separate them totally from factions of the state, Spanish or Catalan, and from the participation of local employers. Binding decisions must come from the mass meetings with delegates being accountable and recallable. The spreading and networking of such working-class organisations is the alternative to the bloody cul-de-sac of competing nationalisms that the bourgeoisie is preparing. In the absence of an existing effective internationalist organisation we offer our solidarity and assistance to communist nuclei and individuals struggling for this necessary proletarian response.

KT/Dyjbas

6 October 2017-10-07

  • 1. Statement on the events in Catalonia europa.eu
  • 2. Catalonia stages general strike following Spanish police's 'brutal' response to independence referendum independent.co.uk
  • 3. Ukraine - A Nationalist Dead End leftcom.org
  • 4. The Scottish Independence Referendum: The Great Diversion leftcom.org
  • 5. In Rojava: People’s War is not Class War leftcom.org

Posted By

Internationalis...
Oct 9 2017 06:42

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  • As we have said many times, national liberation does nothing but divide the working class and leaves workers at the mercy of their own national bourgeoisie.

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Comments

Mark.
Oct 9 2017 09:19
Quote:
Following the police crackdown, Spain's biggest unions, the UGT and CCOO, as well as the Catalan independence association (ANC) called for what may be best described as a citizen’s walkout – their statement read: ’We call on all of society, on employers' organisations, business owners, unions, workers, self-employed workers, institutions and all the citizens of Catalonia to stop the 'country' on Tuesday, October 3’. The CGT, followed by the CNT and other small unions, seized the opportunity and announced a general strike on the same day. The strike hit public transport, two major ports, and the agrarian sector.

This is very misleading. The general strike call by the CGT and other smaller unions came first. The confused call out by the mainstream unions and nationalist organisations followed and was a reaction to it. The reach of the strike was a lot wider than suggested here. As far as I can see the article is avoiding the question of whether the CGT was right to call for a general strike and whether the CNT, Coordinadora and others were right to go along with it.

Mike Harman
Oct 9 2017 10:53

As well as Mark.'s comment on the chronology of the general strike being wrong, at least two other paragraphs are misleading too. It should be entirely possibly to criticise the nationalism here without rewriting events to make them look even worse.

Internationalist Perspective wrote:
Protests against this violence took place in Catalonia but at this stage we have no information of any major protests elsewhere in Spain.

These were solidarity demonstrations in Madrid and other cities on the day of the general strike. From those photos/videos it looks like low thousands were in attendance at the Madrid one:

https://twitter.com/CNT_Prensa_Agen/status/915281897583988736

https://twitter.com/CNT_Prensa_Agen/status/915264573812432897

https://twitter.com/CNT_Prensa_Agen/status/915263753729531906

The Independent, in their article about the Madrid rally, also mentioned approximately 50 small demonstrations the same day asking for 'dialogue', one with 1500 people that directly confronted (or was confronted by) the nationalist demo.

That's not a single mass event on the scale of the Madrid rally, but 50 small demonstrations suggests relatively self-organised against the nationalism and escalation of the main Madrid rally, and the numbers of people involved may not have been that different. Reports of people wearing white and the relatively simplistic demand 'dialogue' (although that could be the Independent's reporting of it) also suggests a different demographic to the CGT/CNT.

These haven't been as widely reported, but they're equally not hard to find.

Independent wrote:
Whilst the Madrid demonstration is the biggest pro-unity show of strength since the Catalonia crisis reached a head last week, much smaller but more numerous protests – roughly 50 – in favour of dialogue with the Catalan independentistas simultaneously took place across in cities and towns across Spain.

There were some brief moments of tension when the edges of the pro-unity and pro-dialogue demonstrations, the latter numbering roughly 1,500 people, coincided in the same central boulevard in Madrid, with a line of police separating the two groups.

The stand-off, reportedly sparked by small groups of the extreme right in the pro-Spain demonstration and which brought responding chants of “I am Spanish too” from the pro-dialogue supporters, finally ended without any serious incidents.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/catalonia-referendum-50000-pro-spain-protesters-gather-in-madrid-as-dozens-of-smaller-demonstrations-a7988246.html

Internationalist Perspective wrote:
Whether as part of the citizen’s walkout or the general strike call-out, whether motivated by nationalism or anger at the police, workers reacted to the events. It remains unclear how far the reports of local assemblies reflect sparks of working class self-organisation or whether they were creations of the local bourgeois establishment to act as a “stage army” favouring the separatists’ agenda.

These assemblies have been in place for weeks/months. Spanish anarchists on the Catalonia thread and a couple of reports from elsewhere said they'd mostly ignored them until recently, writing them off as just separatist, whereas they've started to take the form of community self defense committees now after the state violence. It's quite possible that these are very associated with the nationalist groups in some places, closer to a genuine assembly in others, and that the composition/attendance has changed due to the escalation - but they weren't only thrown up out of the general strike or anything like that.

Dyjbas
Oct 9 2017 13:13

Thanks for pointing out the chronology Mark. We have now amended that bit of the article. Is that better?

It's true we avoid answering the question of whether the general strike call was the right decision, but at this point it seems irrelevant - it happened whether you agreed to it or not, a more interesting question seems to be whether there was an opportunity to intervene in it on an internationalist basis against the Catalan ruling class as well. Hard to answer that without being on the ground.

Mike, we are aware of the solidarity demonstrations that took place in Madrid and other cities on 3 October, but as we wrote in the article, "we have no information of any major protests". We can of course discuss what constitutes a "major protest", but even the Madrid demo, which as you say was the biggest, was still tiny in comparison to the Spanish nationalist mobilisations in that same city. And the general strike itself seems to have remained within the boundaries of Catalonia only. All an "an obvious illustration of nationalism cutting across working class unity." Also, by 7 October the article was already up on leftcom, so information on the 'dialogue' demonstrations and their nature wasn't really available at the time we wrote it.

On the assemblies, I don't think the article says they only came about because of the general strike - but we're interested in those which may "reflect sparks of working class self-organisation", any links that shed some light on that?

Mark.
Oct 9 2017 14:03
Quote:
On the assemblies, I don't think the article says they only came about because of the general strike - but we're interested in those which may "reflect sparks of working class self-organisation", any links that shed some light on that?

On the main thread I put up a link to a Spanish mainstream media report on neighbourhood defence committees (here). I thought one of the interesting points in it was that different committees were set up with different aims. It gives the example of two committees set up independently in the Barcelona district of Gracia, one to oppose the state's efforts to stop the referendum and one campaigning directly for a yes vote. The question I suppose is whether you could see involvement in the first committee as justifiable. I'm not sure of the make up of the committees but both may represent "working class self-organisation". You still have to ask what people are organising for and whether it's justifiable or worthwhile.

Mark.
Oct 9 2017 14:55
Quote:
We have now amended that bit of the article. Is that better?

Yes, that's more accurate. Thanks.

Quote:
It remains unclear how far the reports of local assemblies reflect sparks of working class self-organisation or whether they were creations of the local bourgeois establishment to act as a “stage army” favouring the separatists’ agenda.

I'm not entirely sure here but I suspect the initiative for the assemblies came mainly from the more radical wing of the independentistas along with parts of the non-independentista left, including CGT and CNT members.