For Catalonia (part 2)

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This is the second part of an article originally published in Greek on October 2nd, 2017. By Leon Kokotas for Avantgarde. Translated by PK.

The first part can be found here: https://avantgarde2009.wordpress.com/2017/10/15/for-catalonia-part-1/

V.

What are the Catalan nationalists asking for? The Catalan nationalists want to negotiate with the Spanish state. The Catalan bourgeoisie, the Catalan ruling elite do not want independence. An independent Catalonia would be a disaster for them. To begin with the obvious: the last time this issue had been raised, back in 2015, S&P had downgraded the Catalan bonds to the «rubbish» category. The precondition imposed by the bourgeois circles, that is to say international recognition, proved to be a chimera and the door was slammed shut for the Catalonians first by the UN and then by the Commission. They would have to enter into negotiations from scratch with the EU, and given that the divorce with Spain would not be a «velvet» one, we can assume with certainty that Spain will veto any such effort. As for the currency, they were formally told that it would definitely not be the Euro.

Most importantly, however, such a charade would go against the current of the deepest beliefs of Catalan nationalism, its fears and its ideology. Capitalism in Catalonia may have been linked with the industrial revolution in Europe during its first steps, but it succeeded only because Catalonia was the industrial and technological avant-garde of an entire Empire. The Spanish Empire secured what needed to be secured with its prestige and power. First of all, the internal market and protection from external competition through the tariff system. The Catalans, for their part, appreciated the convenience that the Spanish Empire offered to them.

In their national narrative, the rest of the Spaniards are presented as uncivilized, non-European, etc., but they themselves made their greatest achievements within the context of colonialism. Their most multifaceted and prosperous colony, which was lost after the defeat in the Spanish-American War of 1898, was in Cuba. Somewhere around that time the Empire comes to end, yet despite the fact that Catalan nationalism is radicalized, it never calls for independence. It is not a small thing to be able to sell your products, without competition, in an internal market of at least tens of millions. The only period (if we exclude the post-2010 period) that this debate took place was the 1930s, when the revolution was setting fire not only in Spain but also outside of it. I think that this is an approach of the ideology of the Catalan bourgeoisie, which knows well that, as it has been the case in the past, it would be “nothing» in the future without the rest of Spain.

The Catalan elite had made all the preparations that the first steps of secession and independence would require. There was a plan for the institutions that the new state would need, a plan for the successive situation in which the old institutions of the Spanish state would be replaced by those of the new state, and a council of judges and jurists preparing the status of independence on a legislative level.

So, we have a secessionist movement that does not truly wish to secede. I think what the separatists expected was a «military» response by the Spanish state. The Rajoy government is a minority government based on the Ciudadanos (a party of Catalan origins that is the equivalent of the Greek “Potami”). For some, the barbarous intervention of the Spanish state was the result of the political pressure put by the Ciudadanos, who, apart from their other identities (ie neo-liberal, followers of the “rule of law” type of governance), are also the children of Spanish immigrants in Catalonia, therefore directly interested in the referendum, as described above.

The only time the Catalan political plan went well was the period when the Socialists were in government, in the 2000s. The Socialists passed the «Third Degree for Autonomy» at the Spanish legislative bodies. The Right finally blocked the extension of autonomy at the Constitutional Court. The history of the Spanish Right tells us that it cannot negotiate with the separatists as easily as the Socialists. The crisis, which is also a crisis within the Spanish political scene, with a right-wing minority government backed by the Ciudadanos heavily involved in scandals, sets the first «bar». The second «bar» is set by the Spanish memorandum, the Spanish debt, the recapitalization of the Spanish banks and the deflation of the Spanish economy. The «national question» in Spain and the size of the Spanish economy were the two reasons that Spain was treated in a more “loose” manner by the Troika.

What is certain is that even a left-wing government in Spain (Socialist Party and Podemos) will not be able to satisfy all the demands of the Catalan nationalists. But such a government will be able to negotiate the package of requests with good will and, after some years, come to an unequal agreement, giving them, for example, the «cultural» measures they are asking. But Rajoy and the Spanish state reacted in a way that is inconsistent with the narrative of national unity in Spain. He will be held accountable for this, and he may end up paying with his «head». The Catalan national movement broke its isolation – an isolation due to the nationalist content of its political program – after the repression. Protests are currently taking place across Spain, not in support of the Catalan secession but for the overthrow of the Rajoy government. Rahoy managed to turn a secessionist movement into a symbol of the struggle for civil liberties against the state of emergency. The Spanish Right, the contradictions and the weakness of the political system due to the crisis gave the kiss of life to a process that seemed to have been defeated since 2012. Until the day before the Catalan referendum, the international media did not practically pay any attention to the issue; but now it has become an international and, unfortunately for Rajoy, a European issue.

The stance of the Podemos and the Socialists towards the separatist movement is worth mentioning. The two parties moved within the framework of national unity. They held a «responsible», «national» attitude, taking a position in opposition to secession, in favor of democratic dialogue, but supporting the unity of Spain. Each of the two parties said the above in its own way, and the way it did so is related both to their position on the right-left scale and their history and political aspirations. The Socialists are a «national party», while the Podemos are trying to prove that they are one, giving the necessary guarantees that will open the way for a possible participation in a coalition government with the Socialists.

VI.

Nevertheless, it is worthwhile to say a few things about the demands and the political campaign of the separatists and to look into the kind of future that a Left of class collaboration, that is only trying to bring about independence, may have in Catalonia.

Catalan capitalism seems to be coping better with the crisis than the rest of Spain. Their GDP grew by 3.4% in 2015 (the best performance since 2008). 2015 was also the year of record exports. [8] First of all, it is only within its «nature» (meaning the ideology of Catalan nationalism) to consider the rest of the peoples of Spain as something close to Africans, and to not want to share with them the benefits of recovery. What they are looking for is a better place in the Spanish and international division of labor, a more «national» position than the one they have today.

Historically, the «Second Degree for Autonomy» in 1979 was a «political contract» signed between the Spanish Government and the Autonomy of Catalonia. The Catalans agreed to pay in return for the right to build their own state based on their «national special characteristics». The contract was revised in the 2000s and the result had a detrimental effect on their aspirations. What they present today as the main demand of the Catalan national movement concerns the «solidarity» between the Autonomies, which describes the setting within which resources are transferred from one Autonomy to the other, in order to support the institutions of the state, the welfare state and public spending. This demand is linked to a second one, which concerns the possibility of a more «national» political representation in the EU. What they are asking for is a reallocation of European funds that they would negotiate themselves and that would favor Catalonia, to the detriment of the rest of Spain.

It is not by accident that this movement is led by the Catalan Right. It is the «nationalism of the rich» against the «nationalism of the poor», and those on the Left who manage to support such a cannibalistic political program, brushing it over with words about «socialism» and «emancipation», should know that what they propose is nothing but a «cannibalistic road to socialism». This was exactly how the secessionist movement was perceived in the rest of Spain (with the help of the propaganda by the central state), and therefore never received any acceptance – that is, before it was attacked by Rajoy.

The symbols that the Catalan nationalists use come neither from Ben Bela’s Algeria nor from Ho Chi Minh’s Vietnam. The nationalists are inspired by the breakup of Yugoslavia. The examples they use include Tudjman’s Croatia, Slovenia and the Czechoslovak «velvet divorce». The symbols of their struggle are the two Catalan Heroes of the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714), Rafael Casanova and Josep Moragues [9]. The involvement of the Left in the secessionist movement did not raise the issue of replacing the symbols. What the Left focused on was a grotesque debate about replacing the first with the latter, because the latter was of humble origin.

The People’s Unity of Catalonia supports a government that imposes severe austerity, magnifying the existing level of inequality. They think that they have signed a political contract with the Catalan Right, but this is far from the truth. The actual situation of the political contract that the «anti-capitalist Left» has supposedly signed in Catalonia is described very well by the leader of the Catalan Right in an interview with the Catalan newspaper La Vanguardia [10]: «It may appear that the PDeCAT is vulnerable to the CUP, but that’s not the truth. Let me give you some examples. The CUP put as a precondition to back the budget for 2017, that all taxes were increased, but that was not done, no taxes were raised. This was a fiasco for the CUP. They did make a lot of noise though. Another example: they demanded that the educational concerts [subsidies to private schools] were scrapped, but they were not altered. Despite their tantrums, nothing changes in reality. If you look at the noise, you may think the CUP is getting what it wants. But reality is very different.» Of course, reality is very different in everything. The People’s Unity, despite claiming for the opposite, is actually supporting a secessionist alliance that clearly says that the next day after the secession it will seek to integrate the new state into the imperialist organizations, EU and NATO.

But let us examine the words they themselves use to explain why they choose the «secessionist road to socialism». Let us see how David Fernandez, a member of the People’s Unity in the Catalan Parliament, describes it [11]: «Our motto is: free nations, equal people. In the vein of Zapata, we are only claiming for ourselves what we want for all the peoples of the world: freedom, justice, democracy.

Nevertheless, if I had to choose one central, capital and inalienable reason, I would say that we want independence in order to overcome, eradicate and transform the growing social inequalities that clumsily define our society: 20% unemployment; 50% youth unemployment; 30% at risk of poverty; record numbers of evictions. It is a long, dismal list.

That is to say, I choose work, affordable housing, health care, quality education, care for the elderly. A more ethical and humane country. An independent country as a synonym for different country. To self-determine, defiantly rising up, in order to build social justice, to rebuild ourselves from the wreckage left by this crisis.

To reclaim sovereignty—political sovereignty vis-a-vis a demophobic state; economic sovereignty vis-a-vis the rapacious global markets; popular sovereignty vis-à-vis the elites and corruption that have hijacked our democracy—in order to return this country to its rightful owners: the people. Without full sovereignty, others will decide for us: we know the who, the what, and the how.

But independence means to recover the only democratic instruments that allow us to begin to turn things around and change things in a global context in which the sovereignty of states and markets no longer has anything to do with the freedom of nations and the dignity of people.»

Nice words; they would even be meaningful if they came from the mouth of a Vietnamese or Algerian revolutionary in the era of the anti-colonial struggle. However, they come from the mouth of a citizen of imperialist Spain, who is obviously proud of his own, distinct national conviction (no matter how hard he may try to dress it with left-sounding fanfare); a national conviction that excelled during the years of the Spanish Empire and that allows him to wear shoes and to be able to dream. It is characteristic that the People’s Unity is the most intransigent part of the separatist bloc in Catalonia.

During the previous round of the national issue, in 2015, they were those who put – and emphasized on – the issue of the «Catalan countries» [12], to which they refused to take a step back. No reference to the informal segregation between the “original” Catalans and the rest. Obviously, the comrade is talking about the «socialism» of his own volkisch community, a «socialism» that concerns nobody but the Catalans.

But what about the Spanish proletariat? Let it rot, the answer would be, or let it split up and form a series of small statelets, turn Spain into a Iberian version of the Balkans, in order to reach… socialism. Obviously, this person has not read a word about Balkan history, else he would understand exactly what the creation of a Catalan state – now with a Spanish-speaking minority, and surrounded by a Spanish sea – would mean. Nothing but war, destruction and population exchange. The definition of a Spanish dystopia.

Any Catalans interested in revolution must also win the proletariat of the rest of Spain. This will never be done by examining the ‘accounting books’ of the other Autonomous Communities and demanding that the central government reduce their own contribution to the central treasury. They need to start from the «accounting books» of their own Autonomy, they need to confront “their own” bourgeoisie, to turn against the ‘uneven development’ regime within their own Autonomy, to demand an end to the informal segregation between Catalan and Spanish-speaking immigrants, to fight for the revolution and socialism in Catalonia.

But what they have in their mind is their own «Ikaria». They want to «take» the revolution from Spain and «carry» it somewhere else, to their own phalanstère, to their own Home Colony, as the Utopian socialists put it. The relation of forces is not in their favor, and they naively pretend to not understand it, even when the «allies» point it out to them in a clear manner. The nature of the new regime will be determined by the political program of the social class that holds political power during the transition. As far as we are able to know, this is the bourgeoisie of Catalonia, and the dynamics of things do not seem to change.

Is there anything that links the revolution to territorialism, at least in the Marxist tradition? In addition to Marx’s statement, which should be read by all the followers of «the transformation of the national issue into a class issue», “Though not in substance, yet in form, the struggle of the proletariat with the bourgeoisie is at first a national struggle. The proletariat of each country must, of course, first of all settle matters with its own bourgeoisie»[13], there is the experience of the Russian Revolution. A precondition for the Bolsheviks’ victory was not to let political power fade away, surrounded within the two «communes» of Petersburg and Moscow. They fought hard to extend their power to the borders of Tsarist Russia. The internationalization of the revolution has a prerequisite, especially in times when there is no USSR to “adopt” it. This prerequisite is that it can bind to itself as much land, resources and people as possible, so that it can fight against the capitalist encirclement. This is a lesson that the Catalan comrades have obviously missed.

VII.

While those who believe in the «transformation of the national issue into a class issue» – and this is a common pattern at an international scale – are very giving when it comes to supporting minorities or nationally oppressed peoples that belong to other nation-states, they tend to look the other way when the problem is located within their own country. During the previous period, they warmly supported the Catalan national movement – not against the crackdown by the Spanish government, but the movement as such, with its program and the way it imagined itself. But when the debate shifts to the inside of their own country, then we find out that there are “some other” criteria we need to take into account. In this case, for example, the oppressed ethnicity or minority cannot simply proclaim itself as such, like the Catalans can do, but it needs to obtain «certificates of oppression» from the ethnicity that is doing the oppressing.

Lenin’s basic pursuit was the political program for the socialist revolution. This is how we have to study the «historical legacy». Lenin’s socialist revolution, like Marx’s before him, is a war that requires a real battlefield that cannot simply be the inside of the heads of revolutionaries or the idealistic invocation of the revolution as self-fulfilling prophecy. The battlefield would be the nation-states with their borders and their national cultures, the actual units in which political power is measured. The revolution was to take place within each nation-state.

The first question is therefore the rallying of the subordinate classes under the political program of their own ruling class. Things are simple here. Communists are in any case against the program of their own ruling class. But how does this program apply to multinational empires that oppress the subjugated nations within their territory or ethnic minorities?

The answer includes two parts, like it happens in real life. It is a historical fact that when the nationally oppressed come to demand secession, within the movement there is a political leadership that has designed their political program and has attempted to rally all the social classes under its flag, the separatist flag. On the other hand, the ruling class that oppresses and represents the “official nation”, does the same for its part. The goal of the communists is to dismantle the two political plans, in the effort to make the two proletariats turn against their oppressors and not against each other in the rival trenches of the upcoming war. Let me note here that for Lenin, the existence of such an internationalist movement at the other side of the conflict was not considered as a prerequisite for a communist to undertake these internationalist tasks.

The communist from the oppressor nation must give support to the inalienable right of the oppressed people to secede, in complete opposition to the political program of his/her own bourgeoisie, within the framework of the effort to build unity between the two working classes living within the same borders. This means that he/she will do whatever it takes to defend this right against his/her own bourgeois class. But this support for the «inalienable right» does not mean a political agreement. And it does not mean a political agreement because the communist program puts forward the socialist revolution, not the balkanization of the world, as the solution to the social issue.

The communist from the oppressed ethnic group has an obligation to oppose the separatist agenda and the political program put forward by his/her own bourgeoisie, and to keep the road open to the prospect of the revolution.

This is largely the «historical legacy» of our tradition in relation to the national issue. Is this so everywhere on the planet? The answer is no.

The colonized countries are a different case. The difference lies in the fact that it is through colonialism that these countries (land, people, resources) are subordinated to the capitalist mode of production. Unless colonialism is politically defeated in the most absolute way, ie, military, the socialist revolution can have no future. Revolutionaries from to the rich countries have an obligation to support revolutions in the countries of the “sans-culottes”, even if these revolutions are national ones, ie anti-colonial. Revolutionaries in the countries of the anti-colonial struggles have the political obligation to continue the struggle until the end: the socialist revolution. This process of the two successive revolutions is the «Permanent Revolution».

The case of Catalonia is not the case of a «subjugated nation» being oppressed. It is the case of a nation that is oppressed in the heart of imperialism, a part of its heritage. It is being oppressed, and if someone needs more proof about that than the convictions of the political staff of autonomy from 2015 onwards, the events of the referendum should suffice.

Politically, we do not agree with the secession for reasons that were explained in detail before. We especially do not agree with Catalonia’s «anti-capitalist Left», which only complements “its own” bourgeoisie.

_______________

References

[8] http://gencat.cat/economia/catalaneconomy/article2/index.html and http://gencat.cat/economia/catalaneconomy/article4/index.html

[9] http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/14608944.2011.552491

[10] La Vanguardia 09/07/2017 από https://www.marxist.com/the-independence-referendum-and-the-catalan-national-question.htm

[11] http://www.collectiuemma.cat/article/david-fernandez-i-want-independence-in-order-to-eradicate-poverty-inequality-and-social-ex

[12] https://www.vilaweb.cat/noticia/4237507/20150326/coincidencies-discrepancies-fulls-ruta-cap-independencia.html

[13] Marx, K., Engels, Fr., Manifesto of the Communist Party

 

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