There is no easy solution for the current situation in Catalonia. In fact, there is no easy solution for the tangled mess that is the Spanish Monarchy as a whole. The kingdom currently headed by Felipe VI was born in the fifteenth century as the culmination of a long process of Iberian political unification under Castilian hegemony. As the kingdom’s historical development unfolded, as it took a pioneering role in the establishment of a world market and joined the group of industrialised capitalist countries, the fundamental contradiction between the Castilian hegemony politically incarnated in the Crown and the various regional nationalities was never solved. With the emergence of a modern state apparatus, the drive towards cultural and national homogenisation was strengthened even further, despite the occasional opposition of sectors of the republican and autonomist regional bourgeoisies. Not even the Second Spanish Republic was able to solve the issue, although important developments towards national self-determination took place precisely in Catalonia.
The Second Republic was defeated in 1939 and the most reactionary sectors of the Spanish bourgeoisie, intricately connected with the Church and the military, gained discretionary powers, which meant complete repression of regional nationalities. The regional autonomy guaranteed by the 1978 Constitution has equally been unable to solve the national question in Spain, a phenomenon which had its most acute expression in the decades-long armed struggle of the Basque abertzale left.
It is crystal clear that the contradiction between Castilian hegemony and the regional Iberian national identities cannot be solved within a decrepit, parasitical, and historically-obsolete monarchy. Such aberrant regime is merely the price the Spanish peoples have to pay for not getting rid of Franco’s regime through a revolution, like the Portuguese did with the dictatorship headed by Marcello Caetano.
There is No Self-Determination without Socialism
The Federal Republic is the only political and constitutional form that can solve the antithesis between the political and economical union of the Iberian peoples and the simultaneous safeguard of their right to national self-determination. But the Spanish ruling classes are incapable of taking this project forward. Firstly, because they are profoundly divided between monarchical and pro-Castilian hegemony sectors on one hand, and republican and pro-autonomy sectors on the other; secondly, because the republican and pro-autonomy Spanish bourgeoisie lacks the resolve to decisively break up with Castilian hegemony and its monarchy, neither do they have the capacity to solve other contradiction that underlies the current crisis: the social contradiction, the class contradiction.
Whenever the pro-autonomy right reached power in the autonomous communities of Spain, its governance did not diverge from the neoliberal model which constitutes the rule in present-day Europe. Such is the case of Catalonia. The right, no matter how pro-independence it claims to be, is not the carrier of the anti-neoliberal and anti-capitalist programme which is the sine qua non condition for real socioeconomic development. Even if independence is to be attained, with right-wing policies and without a Spanish Federal Republic, the only result would be a balkanisation of the Iberian Peninsula, something which does not benefit the Spanish working and popular classes no matter their nationality.
But how are we to achieve this Federal Republic? Will all the Spanish peoples concomitantly rise on a beautiful day and overthrow the rotten Bourbon monarchy, thus initiating a constituent process which will conduct to the Third Spanish Republic? Or should we go through multiple processes of popular mobilisation and nationally-motivated regional secession, thus bringing forth the demise of the Spanish monarchy and posterior republican reintegration? The latter scenario seems to be more plausible, at least for the time being. But, in that case, who will lead these processes?
As we saw, it will not be the right. The bourgeoisie cannot take the struggle to its ultimate consequences; its social position as a proprietary class means that it has too much to lose should the struggle be radicalised to the extreme. On the other hand, even if the bourgeoisie could lead the struggle to independence, it does not have the programme of socioeconomic transformation that would bring forth genuine historical progress. The Spanish communist leader Alberto Gárzon is right when he asserts that one must be suspicious of an independence project led by the wealthy classes, but his claim that the pro-independence movement in Catalonia is exclusively bourgeois is false.
We recently had a glimpse of the Catalonian bourgeoisie’s patriotic sentiment, when a mass of Catalonian capitalist groups hurriedly moved their headquarters out of the region in the face of the uncertainty that comes along with a unilateral declaration of independence. Do we need any clearer demonstration that there is no self-determination without an anti-capitalist programme; that is, a programme that breaks up with capitalist property relations? Is there a stronger proof that there is no self-determination without the nationalization of the banking system and the main sectors of the economy? Is there any more definite confirmation that Catalonia cannot be independent and Spain cannot be republican without the working class at the helm of the popular movement?
The Third Spanish Republic Must Be Not Only Federal but also Socialist
The path towards a Spanish Federal Republic is not linear. We are bound to encounter multiple bifurcations until we reach this goal. The unilateral declaration of independence subscribed by the Catalonian Generalitat on October 10 could be a step in that direction but when the interlocutors are Rajoy, his Popular Party (PP) and the King, who have already demonstrated to what lengths they are willing to go in order to keep Catalonia in line, such declaration is worth nothing without an armed force that can impose it. The Generalitat’s declaration was in fact little more than a symbolic and purely rhetoric proclamation. Despite its immediate suspension by Carles Puigdemont, president of the Generalitat, and his repeated appeals for dialogue between the Spanish and Catalonian executives, Rajoy did not hesitate over triggering the Article 155 of the Constitution, which effectively strips Catalonia of its regional autonomy and hands over regional government to Madrid.
Catalonia does not possess the armed power to impose its decision upon Spain. The Spanish communists and leftists organised in the United Left (IU), a front led by the Communist Party of Spain (PCE), understood the problems attached to the unilateral declaration of independence, hence the IU’s opposition to it. However, if on one hand there is no politics without risks, on the other, the IU’s proposal of initiating a debate with other political forces, including the Franco-sympathizing and corrupt-to-the-bone PP(!), a discussion that would allegedly open a constituent process leading to a Federal Republic, is absolutely absurd. The central government’s brutal repression of the Catalonian referendum on October 1 showed clearly that no dialogue can be held with Rajoy, much less when the subject of the conversation is no less than the abolishment of the monarchy.
The current crisis in Catalonia demonstrates that the institutional path towards national self-determination and federalisation of the Spanish state under a republican political frame is gradually closing. The least that could be done in order to save some space for institutional dialogue is to oust Rajoy and the PP from power, a basic demand that should be on the banners of working-class organisations all throughout the Spanish state. Still, should the social-democrats (PSOE) take power in the aftermath of Rajoy’s ousting, there is no sign that the central government would be any less intransigent, since during the current crisis little has distinguished the PSOE from the PP. Only a government formed by the coalition Unidos Podemos (IU-Podemos) could possibly allow an institutional resolution for the Catalonian problem. Let us just note that, with Unidos Podemos sharing 17% of the vote and with the PP still leading the polls as of October 2017, the latter scenario does not seem realistic. Furthermore, I would not hold my breath for an intervention by the European Union, especially in favour of the Catalonians.
Should the institutional option remain closed, the only solution would be a radical and revolutionary rupture with the Spanish state. The leading role in such process would naturally fall on the working class and its political organisations, since Puigdemont’s political activity and the reaction of the Catalonian bourgeoisie to the prospect of independence have proven that the right is incapable of embarking on a revolutionary path.
Among so many ambiguities, there is at least three certainties: one, there is no socioeconomic progress though a balkanisation of the Iberian Peninsula; two, the only constitutional form which allows to safeguard both the union of the Iberian peoples as well as their right to national self-determination is the Federal Republic; three, only the organised intervention of the Spanish working class, which has the same interests regardless of nationality, may lead to the Federal Republic. The Third Spanish Republic must be, therefore, not only federal but also socialist.