Internationalists must support Catalonia’s right to decide

Saturday 30th September 2017

On Sunday 1 October 2017, Catalonia is due to hold a referendum with the question “Do you want Catalonia to become an independent state in the form of a republic?” The Spanish state, where Rajoy’s right wing PP governs as a minority, is using all possible repressive measures to try to stop the vote.

The demand for a vote on independence is a product of many factors. The immediate explanation is Spain’s refusal to accept more moderate changes. An attempt in 2005 to reform Catalonia’s autonomy statute was sabotaged by the PP… and also by the Social democratic PSOE. In 2010 the Spanish Constitutional Court banned sections of a mildly reformed statute, provoking a million strong demonstration in Barcelona with the slogan “We are a nation. We decide.” Since then there have been half a dozen massive pro independence mobilisations, of one to two million people each, in a country of 7.5 million. An attempt to hold a referendum in 2014 was banned, but the 2015 elections to the Catalan parliament were won by parties committed to independence, and they have called this referendum.

The Catalan people want to decide on their future; surveys indicate that 80 percent of the population are in favour of a referendum. Not only revolutionary Marxists; any democrat should support this demand.

Some on the left argue that independence is a manoeuvre promoted by Catalan bosses and the right, but this is false. The Catalan bourgeoisie firmly opposes independence; they want stability, not the uncertainty of a break with the Spanish state. The independence movement includes some right wing sectors, but the general trend is progressive. As well taking steps towards breaking from Spain, the current Catalan government has also introduced measures against evictions and energy poverty; a ban on fracking; a tax on nuclear power; a law promoting women’s equality at work and against sexual harassment; a ban on bullfighting… All of these measures have been overturned by the Spanish Constitutional Court, following demands by the PP.

Others claim to oppose independence from an internationalist perspective. But real internationalism has always meant defending small nations from repression by more powerful states; this was how Lenin and the Bolsheviks understood it when they actively defended the right of self determination and the right to separate from Russia. International workers’ solidarity cannot be built on the basis of repression.

Today in Catalonia, this is not an abstract question.

Over recent weeks the Spanish state’s repressive measures have escalated from searches of print works and newspaper offices to raids on Catalan government ministries, with the arrests of 14 politicians and civil servants. They have threatened TV and radio stations for broadcasting official Catalan government information about the referendum. They have closed down or blocked 140 pro referendum web sites. They have tried to ban the solidarity meetings organised in other parts of the Spanish state; an example of a very positive, and long overdue, change on the Spanish left. They have sent perhaps 6,000 paramilitary police agents to Catalonia, with heavy duty riot gear including water cannon. This despite the fact that there has been no violence on any of the protests.

And the protests have been massive, especially the 100,000 people that spontaneously filled the centre of Barcelona on 20 September to resist the wave of raids on government offices. When masked police agents tried to raid — without a court order — the head office of the anticapitalist and independendentist party CUP, they had to leave empty handed after 12 hours, thanks to the united and peaceful mass protests involving activists from many different sectors of the movement.

The PP refused to open dialogue and search for a federal solution, as they could have done a few years ago. They perhaps believed that they could contain the movement with repression. In fact, their intransigence has been a key factor in broadening the public support for the referendum. In terms of parties, a large part of the “Commons”, the Catalan coalition linked to Podemos, has moved to giving active support for the 1 October vote. Some left wing trade unions in Catalonia are even planning a general strike; a very positive proposal which the whole of the Catalan trade union movement should support. The workers at the ports of Barcelona and Tarragona have already refused to service the ships that accommodate the paramilitary police. All this is another clear example of the importance of organised workers in any social struggle.
The state repression is also encouraging the fascist organisations, which were much weakened in Catalonia, largely due to the years of work of the united antifascist movement, UCFR. Now the far right are celebrating the PP’s clampdown — something have been demanding for years — and they going onto the streets against the referendum, sometimes violently. The broadest possible unity in the struggle against fascism will be essential in the coming months, whatever the result of the referendum.

We condemn the Spanish government’s repression —which has already been questioned by important human rights organisations— and we send our solidarity to the people in Catalonia who are so bravely facing up to it. We fully defend the right of Catalonia to decide its future in the referendum on 1 October. This must go ahead and its result must be respected.

The decision is up to the people of Catalonia, but we hope they vote yes, just as we supported a Yes vote in Scotland. States like Britain and Spain are not an instrument of progress, but rather weapons in the hands of our enemies, both against their own populations and against those around the world exploited by British or Spanish multinationals. The independence of Catalonia would be an important blow against an imperial state.

This struggle is important for all of us internationally. The defeat of the Catalan people would be a sign that brutal repression can work. But their victory could inspire democratic and social struggles of all kinds, in many different countries and contexts.

The Catalan people deserve our support. We need to mobilise active solidarity now, around the referendum, and over the coming weeks and months to face up to the predictably hostile reaction by the Spanish state. We must pressurise our governments and the European Union to condemn the repression, and to recognise the new state, should Catalonia declare independence.

None of this will be simple, and a coherent internationalist left is essential, in order to deal with the many problems and contradictions that will arise. The mass mobilisation in response to the PP’s intransigence creates a situation in which the revolutionary left can grow. But the starting point must be complete support for the democratic rights of the people of Catalonia.

International Socialist Tendency