As the crisis in Catalonia escalates, Chris Bambery takes on some of the arguments being made against Catalan independence.
Argument 1: “Independence for Catalonia is in the interests of the Catalan bourgeoisie”
The Catalan bourgeoisie have never supported independence. They have supported greater autonomy for Catalonia when they understood that they were largely frozen out of running Spain but Spain is their biggest market and they relied on the Spanish state to repress their own, insurgent working class.
In 1936 Barcelona’s manufacturers and bankers rallied to Franco, even though it was clear he would scrap Catalan autonomy (granted by the Spanish Republic) and suppress the Catalan language and culture.
A century ago Barcelona was the industrial and financial centre in Spain. Today that is no longer true. The Catalan textile industry was largely driven to the wall in the 1980s. Meanwhile first Franco and then Socialist and Popular Party governments have driven hard to make Madrid the economic centre of the Spanish state, which it now is.
Some individual firms, particularly smaller ones, might support independence (though even they are very cautious) but the Banca Sabadell and others have made their position clear.
Argument 2: “We oppose all nationalisms”
There is a fundamental difference between the nationalism of the Spanish state and Catalan nationalism.
When Barcelona fell to Franco Catalans were told “Speak Spanish, the Language of Empire.” Catalan books, magazines and even Christian names were banned. Half of all teachers were sacked. The language could not be used in public. Among those executed was the President of Catalonia, Lluis Companys, after he was handed over by the Nazis who arrested him in occupied Paris.
When Franco spoke of Empire he was talking about the Spain created in the late 15th century from the conquest of Al-Andalus and the expulsion of Muslims and Jews, and from the pillage and destruction of the conquest of the Americas. That remains central to Spanish nationalism.
Faced with that, you cannot draw an equal sign between the nationalism of an imperial state and that of those who support independence in Catalonia and the Basque Country.
Argument 3: “Catalonia is the richest region in Spain, they want independence for their own selfish reasons”
It’s true that Catalonia is still the wealthiest region of Spain and pays the most into Madrid’s coffers. But it gets little back. Investment in infrastructure goes manly to the Madrid region. The Spanish Government has blocked projects like developing a high-speed rail link from Marseilles to Alicante vis Barcelona and Valencia.
The Rajoy Government has refused to extend the financial and taxation powers enjoyed by the Basque Government to Catalonia.
Catalans also feel they have had to put up with years of austerity following the 2008 financial crash, followed by the economic collapse, despite the Government in Madrid being repeatedly warned it was building up a huge financial and property bubble.
Argument 4: “But if Catalonia breaks away the poorer South of Spain will lose out”
As argued, the money Catalonia pays to Madrid tends to go on infrastructure projects there, not in the South, and on paying for the Spanish military, paramilitary police and its secret services.
Supporters of Catalan independence argue they would be prepared to pay to help ease the economic problems of Southern Spain, as good neighbours, but want to direct that aid themselves not through the corrupt Spanish state.
Argument 5: “Yes, corruption might be a problem in Spain but it also is in Catalonia”
It’s true there is corruption in Catalonia, as there is in all states. But the source of the contamination is the Spanish state. The Spanish Prime Minister has had to give evidence in a kick back trial involving senior figures in his party; King Juan Carlos had to resign after his sin in law was found guilty of corruption in a case involving his wife; the governor of the Central Bank was convicted too.
Such a level of corruption, flowing from the Franco dictatorship and the failure to root it out during the transition which followed his death, is remarkable by international standards.
That state is so mired in corruption it cannot solve it. Creating a new Catalan state might.
Argument 6: “The Catalan President, Carles Puigdemont, and his party PDeCAT, are right wingers. Why side with them?”
True. They only moved to supporting independence rather than greater autonomy after the Spanish Constitutional Court wrecked the new Catalan Statute of Autonomy in 2010, and after the Rajoy Government refused to grant them the financial powers the Basque Government has.
Their coalition partners, the centre left Esquerra, are long term supporters of independence as are the radical left CUP, which is represented in the Catalan Parliament.
The vision of independence being put forward on the streets and in the popular assemblies is one that sees a new Catalonia offering its people better living standards, welfare services and employment. Plus, the declaration of a Republic means ridding themselves of the Bourbon Monarchy.
Support the people and the popular movement.
Argument 7: “By breaking away you will weaken the Spanish working class”
The problem inside the Spanish working class is that the Socialist Party have lined up with Rajoy against the Catalan referendum and then in supporting the imposition of direct rule by Madrid. Podemos have attacked the declaration of independence as illegal.
What the Spanish state is doing today in Catalonia it will inflict on its own people when they challenge it. Rajoy is already threatening to scrap autonomy in La Mancha and Navarre.
If you try and force the Catalans to remain in Spain, that will create disunity. If the Catalan Republic succeeds it can offer an inspiration to working people across Spain. If they defend it then that lays the basis for a close and fraternal relationship.
The message from the Civil War remains true today: if you tolerate this your children will be next.
Argument 8: “Small states cannot succeed these days”
That’s the argument of Jean-Claude Juncker, former prime minister of Luxemburg. If Catalonia was a centre of money laundering and tax evasion it wouldn’t have any problems!
Catalonia is succeeding and can do better. Being part of Spain shackles it.
Argument 9: “But you cannot exercise sovereignty within the EU”
Again, there’s truth in that. But for the Catalan Republic to succeed there is going to have to be a major row in the EU over the way its lined up behind Rajoy. Growing numbers of Catalans are shocked by that.
Our argument should be that we want a Europe based on democracy and respect for small nations.
But on sovereignty, the EU wants to impose an overall neoliberal agenda on all but it wants individual states to impose that and to police it. The nation state remains the battle ground on which we have to fight.
Argument 10: “Those working class people in Catalonia who don’t speak Catalan will suffer under independence”
Catalonia wants to control its own immigration policy to let in more people than Spain allows. Barcelona is the biggest centre for migrants in Spain.
Whatever criticism you have, Catalonia has integrated migrants from elsewhere in Spain and from Africa, Asia and Latin America to a better degree than Spain.
Spanish will still be taught in schools because Catalans are proud they can communicate in more than one language, often in the same family. The Spanish state has always had a problem with that.
The common definition of who is a Catalan is someone who uses the language. It is not based on blood and race. Of course, far more could be done but a Catalan Republic offers a major step forward from what’s offer in Rajoy’s Spain.
Last Argument: “But the referendum and the declaration of independence is illegal under a constitution the people of Spain and of Catalonia voted for in a referendum”
That was back in 1978 when people were told the constitution, drawn up by the political elite, had to be passed to block the supporters of Franco, the Bunker, and to guarantee democracy and autonomy for Catalonia and the Basque Country. No one said the constitution could never be reformed or altered. That’s what Rajoy and the Spanish Socialists say now.
But they changed the constitution when they put through the economic bailout package demanded by the EU and ignored its provisions when Juan Carlos abdicated.
Constitutions always evolve. The thing most people know about the US Constitution is that under prosecution you can take the 5th Amendment. The clue is in the word amendment.
The Rajoy Government has refused Catalonia any way of holding a legal referendum. The Constitutional Court has intervened to strike down law after law passed by the Catalan Parliament.
The effect of this, and of more recent interventions by the Spanish state, has been to drive more and more Catalans into supporting independence. Before 2010 when the Constitutional Court ripped up the Statute of Autonomy, most Catalans wanted to remain in Spain but with greater devolution.
It is the actions of the Spanish state which has created mass support for independence. Blame Rajoy and the Spanish state and side with democracy in Catalonia.
Chris Bambery is an author, political activist and commentator, and a supporter of Rise, the radical left wing coalition in Scotland. His books include A People's History of Scotland and The Second World War: A Marxist Analysis.
More articles from this author
- A People’s History of Catalonia - book review
- Mike Davis (1946 – 2022): A class fighter - obituary
- Tears of blood: the birth of fascism in Italy, October 1922
- How did it get to this? Truss and the Tory Party’s trauma
- Scotland After Britain: The Two Souls of Scottish Independence - book review
- Italy: The resistible rise of Giorgia Meloni
- The monarchy, the state and our democracy