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Vol. 81/No. 39      October 23, 2017

(special feature)

Capitalist crisis, attacks on autonomy behind
Catalan vote

The violent crackdown by the Spanish government cut down participation but failed to stop the Oct. 1 referendum on independence in Catalonia. Madrid deployed 10,000 Civil Guard and National Police forces, backed up by hundreds of soldiers. The brutality backfired when images of cops in full riot gear lashing out with batons, firing rubber bullets and dragging people by the hair out of the voting stations began to spread. Madrid’s brutality shifted the focus of the discussion to the right to debate and vote, which has a wider backing than independence itself.

The present showdown in Spain and Catalonia come out of two developments. The first is the global capitalist crisis of production, trade and employment. The steep downturn in 2007-2008 further increased the economic and class divisions throughout the imperialist world, including Spain. Unemployment is officially 17 percent and for youth more than double that.

Interrelated with the consequences of the capitalist crisis is the 2010 decision by Madrid’s Constitutional Court to overturn key aspects of Catalan autonomy that were granted in the 1978 Spanish Constitution adopted after the fall of Francisco Franco’s dictatorship and expanded by Catalonia’s 2006 Statute of Autonomy. The ruling was a blow to Catalan autonomy, removing recognition of “Catalonia as a nation” and the Catalan government’s powers over courts and judges. It ruled unconstitutional the preferential use of the Catalan language over Spanish. The ruling provoked a surge in support for Catalan self-determination.

Spain is also very much part of the crisis in the European Union. It is the “S” in the PIIGS — the derogatory and contemptuous term coined by the capitalist rulers and their mouthpieces for Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain. More economically powerful ruling classes in Germany and elsewhere have squeezed more and more surplus value from workers and farmers in those countries and imposed onerous economic and social conditions on workers there, along with ever-growing debt. In light of Brexit, election results in France and Germany, and other pressures on the EU from immigration and the capitalist economic crisis, capitalist rulers across Europe have backed Madrid’s harsh opposition to Catalonia’s separation.

Fight for Catalan autonomy
The recognition of national rights for Catalonia in the 1978 constitution came after four decades of Franco’s brutal dictatorship. The use and teaching of the Catalan language was banned and Catalan culture repressed. Along with the Basque country, Catalonia was the center for resistance against the dictatorship, and mobilizations there played a vital role in bringing it down after Franco died.

Catalonia, the Basque country and the Madrid area are the three most economically developed regions and main industrial centers in Spain, with the highest standard of living. Catalonia’s gross domestic product per capita is about 15 percent higher than Spain’s, while in the southern Andalusia region it is over 15 percent lower. Catalonia’s official unemployment rate at around 15 percent is high, but pales compared to Andalusia’s almost 30 percent.

The responses to today’s crisis conditions reflect social class. Substantial layers of the professional and middle classes, along with small and medium business owners, have responded by pressing for independence, arguing that Catalonia is “subsidizing” the central government budget and poorer regions in Spain and they would fare better on their own. This anti-working-class position is not held by all pro-independence forces, but is one of the factors fueling the rise of support for separation.

The world communist movement unconditionally supports the right to self-determination for Catalonia — and all other oppressed nations — but takes no position on independence. They are two separate questions. This can be seen in Catalonia today.

Referendums and polls over the recent period put support for independence at between 40 and 50 percent of the population. This was reflected in the Oct. 1 vote, and in both pro-Catalonia and pro-continued union with Spain rallies held in Barcelona.

The urban professional and middle classes, teachers and other government workers, university students, and layers of farmers form the social base of the pro-independence organizations. Industrial workers in auto plants, chemical factories and on the docks have not been central to the mobilizations, and the backing for independence in working-class areas is smaller.

With its high industrialization and job opportunities, many workers moved to Catalonia beginning in the 1960s, both from the rest of Spain and other countries. They make up a significant percentage of workers living in the industrial suburbs of Barcelona.

But support for national rights, including the right to vote on independence, is much higher. Dockworkers, firefighters and other unionists were in the front ranks defending the voting against attacks by Madrid’s cops. A poll conducted by the Catalan government in June showed 62 percent think Catalonia has an “insufficient level of autonomy.” While most major Spanish union federations opposed the referendum, their affiliates in Catalonia joined the large mobilizations and general strike Oct. 3 against Madrid’s attempt to stop the vote. In most cases, they made clear they weren’t pushing for a break from Spain.

The big capitalists — the owners of Catalonia’s banks and industries — reject independence. After the Oct. 1 referendum, the owners of the two largest banks, CaixaBank and Banco de Sabadell, as well as the insurer Catalana Occidente, Gas Natural Fenosa and other industries registered their company’s headquarters elsewhere in Spain. They don’t want to endanger access to markets in Spain and the EU, or travel and trade access across Europe. Madrid changed the corporate code to make such moves easier.

Outside Catalonia the treacherous conduct of the parties claiming to speak for working people and the trade union officialdom is what stands out. The Socialist Party supports the government’s position that the referendum is unconstitutional. Izquierda Unida, formerly the Communist Party, and the new leftist formation Podemos, both give lip service to Catalonia’s right to self-determination, but didn’t back the right to hold the referendum. None have taken any initiative to organize demonstrations or protests against the Spanish state’s brutal crackdown in Catalonia.
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