Material World: Catalonia – Referendum (Why Not), Nationalism (No)

‘It’s about class. I don’t have a problem with the person standing next to me, it’s the one above me who’s the problem.’ Pepe Martínez (Guardian,30 September)

In 2014 Scotland held a referendum for independence. This 1 October it was the turn of Catalonia although in this case the process was conducted under adverse conditions as the Constitutional Court had declared the referendum illegal and the Spanish government did their utmost to thwart it. So, the referendum was no longer simply about Catalan independence but a question of the practice of democracy.

The World Socialist Movement’s commitment to freedom of expression means our response regarding this one particular aspect could only be, ‘Let the referendum give voice to the will of the people. Let the people speak.’ We defend the right to ask people what they think and what they want (although history has taught us to be cautious about the motives of those posing as friends of democracy in some plebiscites).

The opinion polls had placed the Remain in Spain camp in the lead, so if the government had simply let the independence referendum happen there would quite likely have been no constitutional crisis nor the ensuing civil disorder. What now unites Catalans and quickly led to a general strike – with even Barcelona footballers taking part – was the repressive manner in which Prime Minister Rajoy ordered police from other regions to sabotage the referendum. As it was, 90 percent of the 2.26 million Catalans who cast their ballots (out of the 5.3 million eligible) voted for independence with Catalan officials saying 770,000 votes were lost due to disruption which resulted in polling stations being raided and ballot boxes commandeered by Spanish police.

How the situation will develop is now in the realm of speculation but we can be sure of one thing – the working class will once again be called upon to defend one section or another of the boss class. This is because nationalism is nothing but a change of masters.

Whether it is Catalonia or Caledonia (or Kurdistan), movements for national sovereignty do not serve the interests of the working class. Socialists declare that the nationality of feuding employers and their lackeys in government is an irrelevance. One of the factors for Catalan independence was that Catalonia pays a disproportionately higher share of tax revenues than other regions to the central state and the prosperous local capitalists are reluctant to dilute their profits to subsidise the poorer parts of Spain any longer. The Catalan nationalists thus baited their appeal with fake promises of prosperity for the local working class. Capitalism pits the interests of the employers and workers against each other, sooner or later all nationalist parties are forced to take sides and we know what the choice always has been. They declare that one way or another the ‘national interest’ is supreme, which is the interest of business.

Nationalism is a ruse to lure workers into supporting the rights of the business class to make profits at their expense.

We state unambiguously our opposition to the views of both The Cortes (central parliament) of Madrid and the Barcelona Generalitat (regional government). 

Socialists call for the end of exploitation and an end to the domination of the privileged few over the majority, not for its replacement by another, more local elite. We view our fellow-workers as the revolutionary force that could overthrow the tyranny of the capitalist system, freeing people and breaking their chains of wage-slavery, if only they can halt the virus of nationalism from spreading. Socialism needs to be placed at the heart of a new approach to living, locally, regionally, and globally. It is a unifying sharing principle that will encourage cooperation, which, unlike nationalism, brings people together and builds social harmony.

Class-consciousness as opposed to nationalist sentiment was never more needed than now. Workers here in London or Edinburgh, Madrid or Barcelona have common cause with the workers of every other country. They are members of an international class, faced with the same problems, holding the same interests. Socialism is about solidarity, coming together and uniting.

Rather than seeking a new capitalist state as the answer, Catalan workers should set out to grow their own strength so that one day it is their own independent power which helps to build socialism. As class-consciousness rises amongst the workers in all lands, the organisation of referendums will focus on the abolition of capitalism’s nation-states and the construction of a worldwide co-operative commonwealth. Ours will be free unions of free people in free associations.


Leave a Reply