For Catalonia (part 1)


This is the first part of an article originally published in Greek on October 2nd, 2017. The second part will follow soon. By Leon Kokotas for Avantgarde. Translated by N. Chr., F.T.

[…] Catalanism still belonged primarily to the local middle classes, to small-town provincial notables and to intellectuals, for the militant and predominantly anarchist working class, both Catalan and immigrant, remained suspicious of nationalism on class grounds. The literature of the anarchist movement was consciously and deliberately published in Spanish.

E.J Hobsbawm «Nations and Nationalism Since 1780: Programme, Myth, Reality» p. 139-140


In Catalonia there is a de facto ‘state of exception’. The Spanish government essentially makes use of Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution of 1978, which allows the Spanish state to cease the status of autonomy for reasons of national security and compel the leadership and the administrative institutions of Catalonia to meet said obligations. The aim of the Spanish government is to cancel the referendum on the secession and independence of Catalonia, which has been proclaimed by the Catalan government for the first of October.

This is the second time since 2012 that some form of a “state of exception” is being implemented by the Spanish government. Combined with the suspension of the «constitutional order» in austerity-ridden countries as well as other «informal » cases of imposition of a «state of exception», the recent developments in Spain, where the decision of the people was not in line with the desires of the ruling class, ought to make one particularly «skeptical» regarding the present and the future of bourgeois democracy in Europe. The defeat of the previous «social contract» means the ending of the «constitutional order» and the democratic character of the political negotiation, as we have known it, at least in Europe, since the age of “capitalism of prosperity”. The former «political tools», the former political framework of democracy, are now part of a glorious and discredited past, no longer useful to the European elites when it comes to crisis management. Democracy is transformed into a formal and executive function until the “natives” learn how to vote; until then, the «deep state» assumes the role of politically representing the European elite.

In this political environment, the rights written in the charters are neither self-evident nor guaranteed. On the other hand, when the ruling classes cannot «reform» the constitutional order based on the legitimacy provided by popular sovereignty, they resort to all sorts of emergency measures. These include the formal or informal declaration of a «state of emergency», or even the creation of institutions within the country that are not subject to any kind of democratic control. Under such circumstances, a liberal – let alone a Marxist – would support that the Catalan people is entitled to circumvent a constitutional order, which has long been thrown to the trash by the government, preserving every right to hold a referendum and to secede, if it so decides.

Leftists cannot but take a stance based on principle, against any kind of «emergency measures» proclaimed by the Spanish government. The right to a referendum is an elementary bourgeois right, just like the right to secession. We defend both of them against the authoritarianism of the Spanish state. This does not mean that we agree with the secession. We are not supporters of the «secessionist road to socialism», and especially when this road is based on a political project of class collaboration which is the definition of the Popular Front. Consequently, in Sunday’s referendum in Catalonia we would have voted NO.


The above constitutes the first level of the discussion, a general and public position. Let us now move to the second level, the discussion “within the movement”, which is a lot more valuable in my opinion.


In the international literature, the Catalan national movement is mostly referred together with the separatist movements that shook the prospect of European federalism in the late 1960s, and as a result it is mostly examined within that context. If it hadn’t been for the Catalan Left – I am referring to the Catalan People’s Unity – acting as an informal «press office» of the Catalan national issue, by trying to answer to the despair of a defeated Left desperately trying to find something to hold onto, following a policy without any criteria and ideological constants, with fables and exaggerations, then the «Catalan question» would have found its appropriate place: next to the issue of the independence of Lombardy, Flanders and Quebec.

It seems however that in the past years the basic lines that divided in our tradition the Left from the Right, the world of the national flag from the world of the red, Communist flag, have been forgotten. Many times in the past years, parts of the Left has found itself fighting battles that were not theirs, lifting foreign flags. The Left has been fighting without an updated and coherent analysis of imperialism, without taking into account the heritage of both the Cold War and the collapse and defeat of the Communist Issue in the 1990s.

The interventions of the Empire in Libya and Syria were supported directly or indirectly, after being branded as revolutions which the Communists ought to support. The intervention of the Empire’s «proxy armies» and the Nazi counter-revolution in Ukraine were treated as a distant descendant of Makhnovitsa. The Jihadist political prisoners in Gaddafi’s Libya were collectively branded as «political prisoners», and their release from captivity was welcomed and celebrated by a part of a Left, including them in the collective unconscious of its martyrology.

The «map» and the territorialization of political tradition lose their significance, and various «subjects» or «fighters» are no longer evaluated on the basis of the political plan which they serve and the historical relationship of this plan with that of the Left, but based on secondary characteristics of the «repertoire of struggle». Instead of being the voice and the program against every form of oppression, a particular part of the Left, has become «the voice of the oppressed»[1], the press office of their struggle, without being interested in the political characteristics of the various «cries for freedom» that echo all around.

These issues have contributed greatly to the creation of a narrative of the Catalan national movement that is both metaphysic and postmodernist. This narrative resurrects -with exceedingly arbitrariness- parts and protagonists of the Spanish history and connects them without any rules, in order to present “what is not” as “what is”. Unfortunately, «historical heritages» live in the world of the dead –in spite of those who insist on a linear continuity between the present and the Communist epoch. In order for them to return to the world of the living, someone needs to bring them back. The validity of the claim of continuity or the revival of the historical past in the present, must always be proven on a case-by-case basis rather than being «stretched» or transformed in order to make the present fit into the past.

In our case, Franco and his fascist regime were resurrected to form the rival camp against the “other”, which was the camp of Durutti and the Spanish Revolution. Nevertheless the Spanish State, even when it applies a “state of exception”, is not a fascist state. Although the Spanish transition to the post-Franco period was a process based on a pre-decided agreement of transition from dictatorship to democracy, incorporating all the political staff of Francoism into the deep state, the administration and the political parties, although the process of «political reconciliation» hid the crimes of the dictatorship under the carpet, the Spanish state is not a fascist state. The narrative of the Spanish right includes Franco, the Spanish Monarchy and the idea of ​​“Spanish-ism”. The Spanish Right defended its – counter-revolutionary – values ​​ against the revolution and communism. This is perhaps the biggest problem the Spanish right would face if it were to attempt to organize an anti-secessionist mass mobilization on the basis of defending democracy: nobody could guarantee that portaits of Franco would not appear, or that there would not be flags of Carlists waving alongside the Spanish flags. That would be a total disaster for the Spanish Right.

But the official narrative is not the same as the one which lives in the ideological core of the Spanish Right. The necessity of introducing Spain to the Western world and it’s institutions in the 1970s was the reason why it signed a social and political contract, in which it was forced to reconcile the past, in the present of a democracy which now also had space for the internal enemy, in a path towards a pluralistic regime which guaranteed some formal aspects of democracy and opened the road towards European integration and capitalist development. If at some point Spain should find itself on the side of the losers of globalization, we will have an interesting discussion about the Spanish narratives and legacies of Francoism.

By definition, every state has to defend its territories against the internal and external enemy. A state which is unable to do so ceases to exist. Right now this is exactly what the Spanish Right is doing in Catalonia, in spite of various excessive and transcendental ideas. Let me also mention that it was the Socialist Party of Spain – and not the Spanish Right – which put a final end to the struggle of ETA, by bringing the war to the Basque Country, introducing paramilitary groups like the ones that were used in Latin America.

On the other hand, it is certain that the secessionist movement in Catalonia has absolutely nothing to do with Durruti and the historical heritage of Spanish Anarchism and the Spanish revolution. Catalan nationalism is presented as the historical heritage which triggered the beginning of the Spanish Revolution, whereas it was exactly the other way around.  The political program of Catalanism was incompatible with the political program of the socialist revolution in the Iberian peninsula. The Spanish Anarchists knew that in order to win the civil war, they had to take over all of Spain and recruit for this purpose under their flags the Spanish «proletariat» regardless of its national beliefs. Nationalism was an obstacle which led the «proletariat» to fight along the rival sides of the barricades.

The Spanish who fought for the revolution understood some things that the Catalan nationalists never did. The Spanish Revolution was literally an international revolution, and the outcome of the struggle in Spain determined the future of Nazism, the future of the revolution, whether war would break out and what its character would be. Lluís Companys, the leader of the Catalan national movement, after the the Spanish Revolution and the Second Spanish Republic were crushed, fled to Paris. The Nazis arrested him in 1940 and handed him over to the Franco’s regime. This man experienced the defeat of his generation as an eyewitness, in the sense that not only did he live through the defeat of the Spanish Revolution, but he also experienced the occupation of France by the Nazis. Just before he was executed by the death squad, he cried out: «For Catalonia». Of all this blood, defeat and the Nazi onslaught that would cost tens of millions of lives, the left-wing nationalist, until the last breath, could only see the Catalan Issue.

Apart from the embellishments of history for reasons of adjusting to the context that we set, another symptom of the postmodern illness is the depoliticization of class struggle and the state institutions, the kingdom of the “unmediated” across all levels of social life. In the case of Catalonia, this methodology corresponds to narratives which depoliticize and neutralize the phenomenon of nationalism. In our case, the «crowd» rushes to the forefront of history, full of nationalist fever, to overthrow – through secession – all the conditions which make its life unbearable. But why does the «crowd» use the tool of secession instead of the tool of socialist revolution? According to these narratives it seems that in Catalonia there is no state, right- and left- wing political parties and their ideological mechanisms do not exist. Ultimately, all these things which constitute the class struggle at a social and political level, create a social power correlation within society, and determine which class’s interests and historical perspectives are met, are totally absent. We must ask, is the social aspect not mediated by the political aspect through the state institutions and the political parties in Catalonia? Is the social aspect wandering “naked» at the forefront of history? Ultimately, is nationalism a flag that anyone can use, beyond classes and political parties, without any consequences?


The “spirit” and history of separatism in Spain belong to the conservationists, the Right- with the exception of the ETA in the Basque Country and the  Terra Lliure in Catalonia, for as long as the period during which shone the star of “third world”- and that is something that cannot be ignored.  Both nationalist- right parties, the Catalan CiU (which is a coalition of the liberal CDC and the Christian Democratic UDC) and the Basque PVN, dominated the political scene of the two regions for many years in a row and are essentially the parties associated with the accomplishments of the autonomy regime.  CiU ruled incessantly in Catalonia from 1980 to 2003, with a short pause only to come back in 2010. The Basque PVN ruled from 1980 to 2009 and was back to government in 2012.

These nationalist parties played a key role not only on a local scale. They were both parties of the national political scene from 1993 to 2012 and on quite a few occasions they served as “power intermediates” with regard to  the stability of the Spanish political system. Over that period they controlled about 20 out of the 350 seats of the lower house of the Cortes Generales, i.e. the Spanish  Congress of Deputies and they would occasionally have a significant impact on the Spanish political system, especially in times of political instability. Thus, they were able to negotiate government concessions on a local level, in exchange for their consent to the formation of minority governments or voting in favour of thorny budgets. Therefore, they have developed a close relationship with the parties of power and the Spanish state and have served for decades as a regulatory factor guaranteeing the stability of the Spanish political system.[2]

It was mainly the Catalan parties of power (right and centre-left parties) that assumed the duty of mediating and politically representing the defeat of the Catalan movement of the squares ever since 2011 employing as their basic tool the Catalanism and the demand for secession and independence. The nationalist political program may quite too often seem to be a “win-win” solution to the historic conflict between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie.  It might look as less dystopian for the prospects of the labour movement in Spain if the anticapitalist Left of Catalonia  (Popular Unity, aka CUP) had not embarked on this venture, infecting that “popular front” endeavour of class collaboration with its “radicalism”.  Today, the secession movement in Catalonia is organized by the government coalition of the parties of the Right and Centre-left (Junts pel Sí coalition) which in turn is supported by the Popular Unity (with an electoral influence of 8%).

Let’s look into the history of the secession movement ever since 1978, so as to gain an insight into the issues raised as well as the foundation of its social and political legitimization.

The Spanish Constitution of 1978 established on the one hand the “indissoluble unity of the Spanish Nation, the common and indivisible homeland of all Spaniards”; on the other, it acknowledged “the right to self-government of the nationalities and regions of which it is composed and the solidarity among them all”. The “Second Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia” was approved in 1979 in a referendum receiving the support of 88% of voters, which debilitated the advocates of independence. By the Statute, the Government of Catalonia holds exclusive power  over matters of culture, transports, commerce, industry, planning economic activity within its region, environment, communications, public security and local government system. In issues pertaining to education, health and justice, though, the local government shares jurisdiction with the Spanish Government. The legal system is uniform throughout the Spanish territory, with the exception of the Catalan civil law.

The political balance has been determined by the fact which lies behind the political developments to date, the contention between the Spanish State and the Catalan autonomists on the reform proposed by the “Draft of New Statute of Autonomy” in 2005. The Statute text did not merely assert an “extension of autonomy”; it was a text promoting substantial rather than formal disengagement of essential Catalan institutions from the Spanish Government. Among other things, the text provided the substantial organic disengagement of the Catalan law system from its Spanish counterpart, the institutionalisation of the Catalan language as the predominant, official language and the establishment of a regime of substantial economic independence from the Spanish government, as well as the simultaneous abolition of the “solidarity system” among the self-governing communities, provided by the Constitution of 1978.[3] Indeed, the Constitution of 1978 provided the transfer of resources from the wealthier to the less well off self governing communities.  The Catalan nationalists through their proposed Stature would abolish this very provision and institutionalise the equal distribution of inputs and outputs from their self- governing community.  It is essential, at this point, if we are to understand the contradictions and the irrational nature of the nationalist fever, that we stress the fact that both the Catalan Governments and the Catalan delegates in the European Parliament as well as the Catalan lobby in the Commission have gone to great lengths against the decision of the prosperous North of Europe to curtail the European funds and resources destined for the poor South of Europe.

The draft of the New Statute of Autonomy was presented before the Spanish Congress of Deputies and the Senate (Cortes Generales) and supported by the Socialists though it met with the opposition of the People’s Party, that is to say the Spanish Right, on the grounds that the text was unconstitutional. The latter went on to lodge an appeal before the Constitutional Court of Spain.  Yet, it was not only the Spanish  Right and certain figures of the Spanish press who turned to the Constitutional Court. The action had also been signed by the self-governing communities of Aragon, Valencia and the Balearic Islands.[4] The action of the other self-governing communities against the Catalans’ decision is an issue worth studying. The catalanism, the Catalan national narrative, usually encompasses within its “territories” the so-called “Catalan Countries”. The latter include apart from the Balearic islands and Valencia, parts of Aragon, the Principality of Andorra, parts of South France (Roussillon) and the city of Alghero in Sardinia. The “Catalan Countries” are nothing more than the Catalan world of the Middle Ages. The other self- governing communities apparently did mind being considered “Catalan Countries” by the Catalans in their constitutional text and thus being included in the Catalan nation.  The self-governing community of Valencia has many times found itself in a “state of war” trying to fend off Catalan schemes of tens of millions of euros, aiming at incorporating their language in the Catalan language.  A second reason (though by no means of secondary significance) is connected to the fiscal provisions of the Catalan draft, which would do away with “solidarity” among the self-governing communities.

The Court evaluated the constitutionality of the draft and its judgement was published in 2010 with a majority of 6 – 4. The Court declared 14 articles unconstitutional and dictated the interpretation of another 27 articles. Those articles concerned mostly the law system, the issues of language and the fiscal policies.  It also reformulated the article defining the Catalans as a nation, by stripping the term of any legal effect. The Catalan government has never accepted this decision and has voiced objections regarding the legitimacy of the composition of the court.

It is in this context that I feel we should discuss the referendum of 2006 in Catalonia and the power relation formed by the judgement of the Constitutional Court. In 2006, a referendum was held in Catalonia regarding the acceptance or not, of the draft of the New Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia. 74% of the Catalans voted for the draft with  21% of the voters voting against it[5]. Among the latter were the People’s Party and the Catalan Centre-Left.  Their voters without a doubt went to the ballot box with the intention of thundering “No”. Nevertheless, only 49% of the population registered on the electoral rolls took part in the referendum. The rest 51% abstained. This picture, depicting the split in the Catalan population,  even through abstention, boosted the confidence of those who challenged the constitutionality of the draft of the new statute. It is doubtful whether the Constitutional Court would have reached this judgement rather than one being closer to the anticipations fostered by the Catalan nationalism, if the participation had been 90% instead of 49%. As far as the relation of  6 – 4 of the votes of the judges is concerned, far from the various conspiracy theories, this could be discussed in the light of what kind of state was the Spanish state in 2010. A “Bourbon Restoration” or  a regime nostalgically cherishing Franco’s rule  would never have allowed a majority of  6 – 4, so very promising  in the future- far more likely would have been a consensus of 10 – 0, to send a powerful message.

The question arising concerns the outcome of the referendum in 2006: Why did most of the population abstain from voting and how is this linked with the general tendency of rather low participation in the electoral procedure noticed in Catalonia and reaching up to 60%?

The answer lies in the nature of catalanism (Catalan nationalism) as nationalism and in its function as political ideology structuring a political program, the political program of the Catalan bourgeoisie. This plan appears to be predominant, even if this is so by virtue of the “silence” of those who have a vested interest in opposing it.  It turns out that all those end up swearing in the name of  the bourgeois political plan; the very same people who denounced the austerity policies until yesterday, today they are voting for them; who having clashed with the Catalan police forces on the streets back in 2011, today are asking for more autonomy to be granted to these forces; who back in 2011 wanted to set fire and burn down the “Catalan institutions” and today, they wish these institutions to be independent.

In 1979, 68% of the population in Catalonia[6] felt they were Spanish only or as Spanish as Catalan.  35% would identify as only Spanish or rather Spanish than Catalan while 33% would feel as Spanish as Catalan.  In 2007 only 50% felt they were only Spanish or as Spanish as Catalan, while the rest 50% felt they were more Catalan than Spanish (30%) or only Catalan (20%). Clearly, since 1979 the Catalan political parties and the Catalan governments have successfully forged a Catalan identity and this tendency seems to grow stronger and stronger.  It is not only the two laws voted, the one aiming at the “Normalisation of the language” in 1983 and the latter on the “Linguistic Policy” in 1998, ensuring the Catalan as predominant language in public life, even though the Spanish was more popular, that account for this shift.  If one is to gain an insight into that shift and the subsequent imperceptible reaction of the Spanish speaking population to these laws restricting their rights, they must realise that “catalanity” determines one’s social and economic stature in Catalonia.  When we refer to “catalanity”, we do not mean the ability of anyone to speak the Catalan language fluently, but their descending from  Catalan linguistic networks, which in this case implies the transformation of linguistic- cultural networks into networks offering political aid by means of the interference of political  power, of the entrepreneurs’ elite and patron-client networks.

A statement that can be made about Catalonia is that it has been the most illustrative example of combined and uneven development. Its GDP is one of the top three within the Spanish territory whereas 30% of its population survive in dismal, grim towns of 25 000 – 30 000 inhabitants near industrial zones. The health service in Barcelona reports that there is a discrepancy in the residents’ life span by up to10 years, depending on their social-economic status. The OECD (2003) reports that Catalonia is one of the Spanish regions with the most direct correlation between parental income and the ability of young people to attend university.  If we add the fact that the income discrepancy is closely intertwined with “catalanity”, we can infer the extent of marginalisation of the “others”.

The “others” make up the so called spiral of silence. Spanish- speaking immigrants or immigrant descendants know perfectly well that their climbing up the social ladder comes to a ceiling, that ceiling being the Catalan nationality.  So, they remain politically silent and fall into the 40% rate of voters who abstain from any electoral procedures in Catalonia, into the 51% rate of voters who abstained from the referendum in 2006, into the 60% rate of voters who abstained from the referendum in 2014.


Still, let’s look into who would vote today for independence[7], their social class in conjunction with their descent and their voting behaviour.  It seems that the higher the income, the more popular is the question of independence amongst the residents of Catalonia.


The higher incomes are in favour of independence

Independence is appealing only among those who answer “we live comfortably”. Among those who face “many difficulties” to make ends meet on a monthly basis, independence gains 30%. The Catalonian who are less well off, those who are out of work or receive a pension are no proponents of independence. It is among the civil servants that independence starts to gain ground.


Who wants independence

What puts the poor off the idea of independence is their background and family descent. The Catalans born outside Catalonia have lower incomes and are less fervent supporters of independence. 37% declare to earn less than €1200 while only 10% get a family income of €2400. For this generation the situation is slightly better since only 20% now declare to have a family income under  €1200 while 25% gets over €2400.

The connection between descent and independence is obvious. Support for independence comes up to 75% among the third-generation Catalonians whose both parents and 4 grandparents were born in Catalonia.  This rate is diminishing in families with a more diverse background. Support for independence is falling to 49% among children whose mother or father was born outside Catalonia and 29% in the case of those whose both parents were born outside Catalonia and came as immigrants.


Descent and Family income


Descent and Independence

In my opinion what is significant about the last chart is polarity. The chart displays the striking contrast between two extremes in Catalonia: On one end of the scale, down on the left, we can see the Catalans who come from outside Catalonia, with low revenues; these are the ones staunchly opposing independence. On the other end of the scale, up on the right, we can see the grandchildren of the Catalan enjoying the highest income; these are the most fervent advocates of independence.


Rate of Catalans classified in each group on the basis of descent and revenues in favour of independence

The working class and the lower revenues, the immigrants from other regions of Spain and their descendants don’t take sides with the cause of independence. It was common knowledge that the votes in the referendum were anticipated to be 50 – 50.

There is though a question concerning the fervent supporters of independence, particularly those who come from the left, both natives and foreigners.  The fact that the nationalist Right and the state don’t give a shit about that kind of institutional disparity which generates minorities is widely known. But the Left too?

[the second part can be found here:


[1] Since the time of Communist Manifesto, Marx has considered it very important to distinguish between the «proletarian» and the «communist». This distinction is not related to the social background or class as a place in the process of capitalist production, but to social class as a historical perspective, class that is realized, class at the level of the political struggle. Marx writes in the Communist Party Manifesto:

“The Communists, therefore, are on the one hand, practically, the most advanced and resolute section of the working-class parties of every country, that section which pushes forward all others […]. The immediate aim of the Communists is the same as that of all other proletarian parties: formation of the proletariat into a class, overthrow of the bourgeois supremacy, conquest of political power by the proletariat.»

For Marx, communists are the political vanguard because they express the historical perspective of the proletariat. Communists are not the voice of the oppressed; they are the political program against oppression, and there is a vast difference between these two.


[3] – lestatut – obre – nova – era – politica – catalunya.html

[4] – recursos – aragon – valencia_20061115.html


[6] The conclusions and statistics come from the following two articles: and

[7];id_externo_rsoc=FB_CC the data reported by EL PAIS derive from the Catalan Statistics Service;colId=6288&lastTitle=Bar%F2metre+d%27Opini%F3+Pol%EDtica.+2a+onada+2017


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