The Catalan Revolution and the tasks of the left

The Spanish state intends to appear as the victor in the unfinished battle against the Catalan independence movement, but the most significant development in these 2 months has been the emergence of the largest movement of civil disobedience in the Spanish state in 40 years.

This movement has been carried out by millions of ordinary people, has shown revolutionary features and has put in check the Spanish regime of 1978 and its state apparatus, inherited from the Franco regime. The lessons to be drawn from this conflict, which is far from over, are precious; and will help to forge the revolutionary consciousness of the new generation, in Catalonia and throughout the Spanish state.

The imprisonment of the 7 members of the Government of the Catalan Generalitat and the arrest warrant against the rest (currently in Belgium), demonstrate the fury and anger of the Spanish state against those who have dared to exercise the democratic right of self-determination. The state’s direct political representatives in the Popular Party (PP) and Citizens (Cs) have applauded its repressive measures – along with the so-called socialist leadership that has once again proved to be part of the establishment.

However, the situation is volatile and sudden changes are implicit within it, as evidenced by the new wave of mobilizations taking place after the jailing of 7 members of the Catalan Government. Today, waves of strikes and demonstrations will be held throughout Catalonia. In recent days, the Committees for the Defense of the Republic (CDR) have blockaded roads and organized protests. The fate of Carles Puigdemont, temporarily sheltering in Belgium, is also up in the air. In fact, in the whole process the same pattern has been repeated itself: faced with the half measures of the leadership of the "Procés" [as the movement for self-determination is known], the explosive intervention of the masses in response to the repression of the State (on 20 September, 1 October and 3 October) has pushed the process forward.

The impotence of the leadership of Unidos Podemos

The position of the leaders of Unidos Podemos throughout this process has been scandalous. Despite formally defending the right to self-determination, when this was exercised in practice in the referendum on October 1, they did not support it.

When the Spanish state showed its willingness to crush any attempt to exercise the democratic right of self-determination, the comrades of the leadership of IU [United Left], Podemos and the Commons (with very few exceptions) put the repression of the State on the same level as the Catalan referendum ("neither 155, nor Unilateral Declaration of Independence", "both are irresponsible"). Before the repression of the State they came out with abstract platitudes about their opposition to "all nationalisms". Therefore, they placed the reactionary Spanish nationalism, which has Francoist roots and crushes the democratic rights of Catalonia, on the same level as the democratic Catalan nationalism that wants to exercise these rights, and that aspires to a republican form of government. They have actually become defenders of the "unity of Spain" in the abstract, instead of placing themselves firmly in the defense of democratic rights and against the regime of 1978.

Alberto Garzón Wikimedia CommonsAlberto Garzón / Image: Wikimedia Commons

For some reason, Alberto Garzón wanted to take this position to the grotesque, denying the character of political prisoners to the members of the Catalan Government and the Jordis, currently detained. He did so by making out of place comparisons, opposing them to prisoners under Franco, which he regards as the only "genuine" political prisoners. It is no coincidence that the right wing media have given maximum publicity to such irresponsible statements, which only wash the face of the regime and benefit its repression.

Comrade Garzón is very proud of his own alternative: "A federal and pluri-national republic an a mutually agreed referendum," and says that he will defend it throughout Spain.

Very good, comrade Garzón. You can spread it all you want, and even win the elections with an overall majority. But what will you do when the apparatus of the state and the bourgeoisie itself flex all their muscles to crush your aspirations? What will you do when the Constitutional Court or the Supreme Court declare your initiatives illegal? And when the IBEX35 companies start a campaign of economic terrorism by threatening to take their business abroad? Or when the King goes on TV denouncing everything as a madness, and calling on the police and military forces to obey him as the Head of State? In the end, either you will submit or you will have to follow the brave example of the Catalan people, who follow their own instinct and will in disobeying unjust laws and courts that nobody has chosen and that only represent the will of the powerful.

In reality, what the Catalan conflict has revealed is the pressing need to organize a mass Marxist and revolutionary wing of the movement that can pose an alternative to the blunders and political disorientation that the left's leaders have shown in these convulsive times.

The limitations of the leadership of the Catalan Government

Certainly, the state has been able to impose Article 155 and its reactionary measures, despite its massive popular rejection in Catalonia. After the proclamation of the Republic on 27 October, the conditions existed for a mass movement of resistance that openly defied the Article 155 coup. The workers of TV3, Catalunya Radio and the rest of the media of the Generalitat had announced that they would disobey any imposed director. The same affirmation was given by the largest union in state education: USTEC-STEs. The largest union of Catalan civil servants, CATAC, also rejected Article 155 measures.

At the moment of truth, when the independence ranks were waiting for a signal or a call to action after the announcement from Rajoy, nothing came from their leaders. Instead, these leaders in practice (except for some feeble gestures) fatally accepted the decision of the State, and quickly showed their willingness to participate in the Catalan elections convened by Rajoy for 21 December. The Catalan Government did not take any steps to make effective the declaration of the Catalan Republic.

All the activity of the leaders of the Catalan Government since 3 October has been based on a strategy that has proved its bankruptcy. Instead of basing themselves on the movement of the masses in the streets, the government's sought to obtain international mediation in order to force the Spanish government to negotiate.

The formal proclamation of the Catalan Republic, initially scheduled for 3-4 October, was delayed until 10 October, when it was simultaneously suspended (to allow time for negotiation and mediation) and it was not properly made until the 27th, after innumerable stumbles and even with a failed attempt on the eve of openly betraying the movement, when Puigdemont hinted at calling for early elections instead of proclaiming the Republic.

The facts have shown that the most that the leaders of the PDeCAT and ERC aspired to was a symbolic proclamation of the republic and Catalan independence, but accepting as inevitable and unstoppable the intervention of self-rule by the central government under Article 155.

The statements of Santi Vila (the Catalan minister who resigned after the declaration of independence) are very revealing. In an interview with RAC1 radio station he explained that he had done nothing to prepare the structures of an independent state from his department because he did not believe in it. That was not an isolated case. Actually the Catalan Government decided to make a formal statement because from their point of view they could not move forward. The ranks of the movement ask, rightly, where were the ‘state structures’ that the government had allegedly been busy building for a long time?

Dinar Santi Vila Image Wikimedia CommonsDinar Santi Vila / Image: Wikimedia Commons

The truth is that all the steps of the Govern (the call for the referendum, the suspension of the declaration of the Republic, etc.) were directed to obtain international support that would force a negotiation with the state. However, as expected and as we had warned, the EU aligned itself fully with the Spanish state.

In his statement in Brussels last Tuesday, Puigdemont pointed out that the alternative to proclaiming the Republic only in a symbolic way was a resistance that would have led to a "wave of brutal repression against civil servants". These words demonstrate the absolute lack of confidence in the ability of the mass movement to fight and face repression (which undoubtedly would have occurred).

In fact, news reports indicate that the Catalan Government, faced with the brutal repression of the state, had wanted to suspend the referendum on 1 October at noon. The people who defended the ballot boxes and polling stations resisted until the end and ensured a magnificent participation of more than two million people in very difficult conditions.

Those responsible for this inconsistent and hesitant policy are in the first place the PDECAT (and within it those sectors most directly linked to the Catalan bourgeoisie, like Santi Vila), but also the ERC which remained fully attached to the PDECAT, without expressing any criticism or pushing any different policy at any time.


Carles Puigdemont Images Wikimedia CommonsCarles Puigdemont / Images: Wikimedia Commons


This comes as no surprise for Class Struggle International Marxist Tendency. We have consistently pointed out in all our articles the inability of the nationalist small and middle bourgeoisie to lead an effective struggle for national liberation, for two reasons: for its inability to drag a significant majority of the Catalan working class to it, and because it lacks the determination to organize a consistent mass struggle for independence.


This lack of determination is due, in turn, to two other factors: their fear of a frontal confrontation with the Spanish state and their fear of being overtaken by the masses themselves, who might impose their own social demands that come into conflict with the Catalan big and medium bourgeoisie Catalan. Hence the constant appeals to the ‘peaceful’ protest, to ‘not fall into provocations’, so that social mobilization takes place at all times through secure channels and under their control.

The Defense Committees of the Republic

In addition to the official movement headed by PDECAT, ERC and the Catalan National Assembly, a movement has developed from below: the Referendum Defense Committees, which have now changed their name to Republic Defense Committees (CDR). Currently, there are more than 170 CDRs throughout Catalonia, grouping thousands of activists, in which the CUP has played an important role, and which are beyond the control of the leadership of PDECAT and ERC.

The CDRs have been marginalized and viewed with distrust by the official leaders of the movement from the first moment, to the point of boycotting and calling not to participate in some of their actions. But the CDRs have acquired a dynamic of their own, although it would be an exaggeration to say that they are a mass movement at the moment. They do bring together the most advanced activists, the vanguard of the movement, and in an upward dynamic they could become powerful steering committees of the struggle throughout Catalonia and embryos of workers' power in neighborhoods and cities.

The fight for the right of self-determination of Catalonia brilliantly vindicates the position defended by Leon Trotsky in his theory of permanent revolution, which says that in the epoch of imperialism, in the weak and backward countries, the pending democratic-national tasks can only be completed with revolutionary methods and under the leadership of the working-class. The Spanish bourgeoisie and its state apparatus are too reactionary to grant this right to the Catalan people. The Catalan bourgeoisie has aligned itself with its class brothers and sisters in Madrid in this conflict. And the Catalan petty-bourgeoisie has shown its limitations to carry the fight to the end. It is up to the Catalan working class to take its place at the head of the movement.

How to win the working-class in a decisive way?

The most important element in the equation is the working-class, both Catalan and Spanish. Without clear support of the Catalan working-class it is not possible to reach an independent republic in Catalonia. And to obtain the support, sympathy or active neutrality of the working-class from the rest of the Iberian Peninsula towards the cause of the Catalan people is vital to weakening Spanish reaction and the regime in its own territory.

This means that the less nationalistic the approach of the independence movement towards the Catalan working-class and the rest of the State, the more likely it will be to attract them. Conversely, the more nationalistic it is, the more difficult it will be to connect with the working-class and the easier it will be for reactionary Spanish nationalism to divide them.

Without any doubt, the Catalan working-class is divided on the issue of independence. One layer, more widespread amongst public sector workers and precarious workers, above all amongst the working=class youth, stands for a Catalan Republic. But another sector, more widespread among the traditional layer of the labour movement in the big factories of the Barcelona red belt, in Vallès, Baix Llobregat and Tarragona (where workers of Castilian-speaking ancestry predominate) looks distrustfully and with uncertainty at Procés for several reasons, not necessarily common to all of them nor with the same intensity.

These include the leading role of the PDeCAT, which they distrust for their political opportunism and bourgeois character; the impact of the economic terrorism campaign deployed by the ruling class and the uncertainty it causes over jobs, pensions, the economic viability of an independent Catalonia, etc.; and thirdly, a sense of belonging to Spanish state.

The truth is that one of the weaknesses that we have observed in the independence camp after 1 October has been the absence of speeches and appeals to the Spanish working-class, to their organizations and to the left, for support and solidarity, and to join them in a common struggle to put an end the regime of ‘78. That would have helped the more reluctant sector of the Catalan working-class to look at the Procés with different eyes, by allowing them to consider that their efforts in Catalonia for the setting up of a republic could help and stimulate their class brothers and sisters in the rest of the state to go down the same path. And the possibility that both processes, in Catalonia and in the rest of the State, could be linked at a certain point.

That would strengthen the chances of victory against the common enemy and the possibilities of establishing a viable, democratic and socially advanced republic, either independently at both sides of the Ebro river, or as a confederation. On the other hand, an appeal to the solidarity of the Spanish working class would have helped to combat Spanish chauvinism and the despicable anti-Catalan campaign of bourgeois media outside Catalonia.

It is clear that the PDeCAT will never use this tactic. It is impossible to mobilize the working-class without an advanced social program, something that the PDeCAT will never defend. Besides, it has an organic distrust of the mass movement in general, and the working-class in particular. In addition, it does not achieve another way forward than reaching an (impossible) agreement with the Spanish state. This is the reason why it is improbable that PDeCAT would ever make an appeal to the population of Spain to rise up.

The CUP and the Catalan revolutionary left

The CUP is the most suitable organization, within the independence camp, to have applied a policy similar to the one we have suggested. One of its main currents, Endavant, calls himself a Marxist and fights for a Catalan Socialist Republic. From the beginning, the comrades of the CUP have had a differentiated policy towards the movement, explaining clearly that "without disobedience there will be no independence" and boldly promoting the setting up of the CDRs. However, at key moments, and particularly in the week of 27 October and after the proclamation of the Republic, the comrades of the CUP did not offer a clear alternative orientation to the policy of the Catalan Government. It seemed that instead of fighting for the leadership of the movement, or overtaking the Catalan government from below, the activity of the comrades in the CUP leadership was concentrated on putting pressure on the government at the top.

The roots of the organization in the working-class and the trade unions are shallow, for now, and within the CUP there is a current, Poble Lliure, which poses a two-stage policy towards the movement: first, an alliance with sectors of the nationalist bourgeoisie, to achieve independence; later, further down the line, breaking with her to fight for socialism.

It is necessary, therefore, to open a deep debate within the Catalan revolutionary left about tactics and strategy.

The only way to succeed in winning over the working-class in Catalonia to the prospect of the Republic is, first, giving the struggle a socialist character, including the defense of the nationalization of corporations and banks under the democratic workers' control; and secondly, by linking the fight for the Catalan Socialist Republic with the extension of the revolutionary process to the rest of the state.

This, as well as delivering a nearly decisive blow to pro-Spanish and monarchist reaction, will help bridge the misgivings of those Catalan workers who consider themselves left-wing but who do not want to lose their affective and family ties with the rest of the Spanish state. This strategy will encourage these workers to join a common struggle with the rest of the working-class and the people of Catalonia.

Albano Dante Fachín Image Wikimedia CommonsAlbano Dante Fachín / Image: Wikimedia Commons

Experience will clear the way. Within the revolutionary and transformative left in Catalonia there is a growing political convergence between the CUP (especially the Endavant sector) the Albano Dante sector of Podem and other sectors of the Catalan left such as Procés Constituent. This confluence could offer a clearly leftist, socialist and revolutionary flag that, supported by the mass movement of the CDRs and extending its influence in the working-class (starting with the youth), could set itself the task of disputing the leadership of the movement with its petty-bourgeois wing, even winning even a sector of ERC that could shift further to the left. The first test will be the 21 December elections. It is certain that the Catalan population will participate massively to deliver a blow to the Spanish regime. The militant Catalan left should not get involved in an amorphous joint front including the PDeCAT, but show openly its face and its program by presenting its own list, which would have an enormous impact.

This must be completed with a clear and persistent appeal to the Spanish working-class and its organizations, as well as sustaining the fight against the repressive and authoritarian policy of the central government in Catalonia in the coming months. The conditions would be given, then, for a significant advance of the revolutionary and socialist left of the independence movement. But the condition must be to oriented towards the working-class throughout Catalonia and the rest of the Spanish state, not with a nationalist approach, but with an internationalist and socialist approach.

That will be the key to success for the Catalan revolution: the struggle for the Socialist Republic of Catalonia, to serve as the spark for the Iberian Socialist Revolution, and the prelude to the European Socialist Revolution.

The tasks of the Spanish left

For its part, the Spanish left and its revolutionary wing should not be intimidated by the unbridled Spanish reaction. In spite of everything, it has a superficial character and the more arrogant and pro-Franco it is, the sooner it will provoke a mass movement against it.

Pablo Iglesias Images Wikimedia CommonsPablo Iglesias / Images: Wikimedia Commons

We have already explained in previous articles our position on Unidos Podemos and its leadership in relation to Catalonia. We urge all comrades of Unidos Podemos and its allied organisations, and the Spanish left in general, to tirelessly defend the democratic right of the Catalan people to form an independent state, and to fight any repressive measure against Catalonia, mobilizing its own forces to denounce and, if possible, prevent such repression.

At the same time we must raise a socialist, republican and revolutionary program. The axis of the agitation must be to link the rotten regime of 1978, its corruption, its injustices, the authoritarian and Francoist drift of its State apparatus and of the monarchy, with the capitalist system. This system protects the 200 families of the oligarchy that control the 100 largest companies in the country and 80% of the national wealth, and must be brought down.

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