On 1 October, the Catalonian government held an independence referendum, which asked: “Do you want Catalonia to be an independent state in the form of a Republic?”
The Spanish government was so concerned about the possibility of a separation from the State, that more than 10,000 police officers of the National Guard were sent to prevent the vote from taking place, resulting in more than 800 people injured and tens arrested. However, even in such conditions, more than two million people voted, and over 90 per cent declared themselves favourable to independence.
Catalonia is one of the richest and most industrialised regions of the Spanish state. It has about eight million inhabitants and accounts for 20 per cent of the country’s GDP. Approximately 10 per cent of the population works in industry, which is not an insignificant number, in view of the vast de-industrialisation process that took place in Spain in the recent decades, especially after the country joined the European Union (EU) and became an economy subordinated to Germany and France.
The referendum caused one of the deepest institutional and social crises since the Transición period, when Franco’s dictatorship ended and a democratic parliamentary monarchy replaced it.
The bourgeois sectors that took control of the state apparatus were completely integrated into the project of the European Union. The political regime that arose from the transition period is known as Régimen del 78 (78 Regime), which is in reality a continuation of the Franco regime with democratic concessions.
Part of the old regime’s structures, such as the repressive apparatuses and the judicial system, were preserved and a king appointed by Franco was installed as a moderator among the different social actors, who had the power of vetoing laws passed by the Parliament.
The People’s Party, which currently rules the country, was formed at the time by “reformist groups” inside Francoism. In addition to that, some of the current laws were approved during the final stage of the dictatorship, as a manoeuvre by Franco to keep part of the regime intact when he eventually died. The corrupt Spanish monarchy is undoubtedly the most evident symbol of Francoism.
Imposition of article 155
The Spanish government is preparing to enforce direct rule in Catalonia by invoking for the first time in history article 155, which strips the Catalan government of all power and centralises it in Madrid. It will mean direct intervention and control over the institutions of the Catalan community.
According to Mariano Rajoy, this measure is justified by the need to re-establish normality and the “rule of law” in Catalonia. Rajoy’s plan is to call for new regional elections within six months.
The announcement of the use of this authoritarian measure further fuelled the immediate call for protests and strikes by the separatist movement, which is divided following Carles Puigdemont, the Catalan president, decision to wait and call for negotiation moderated by the EU, instead of declaring unilateral independence after the referendum from 1 October.
Catalan bourgeoisie and the separatism struggle
The Catalan bourgeoisie isn’t willing to lead the separatist struggle all the way to effective independence. Historically, it has always used the Catalan people’s national identity, which originates from a real oppression from Spanish nationalism, to negotiate with the groups who control the state to achieve a greater share of the national wealth, especially taxes.
This is exactly what the difference is they have but now a new massive support is behind them from popular sectors fighting for independence.
The shift to independent positions from part of the Catalan middle class and broad popular sectors — came with the beginning of the economic crisis, the implementation of budget cuts and a series of counter-reforms, and is the root of the current crisis.
The capitalist crisis initiated in 2007 led to the confrontation of two capitalist sectors on the one hand, and a process of social mobilization on the other. That is the main cause of this unprecedented political crisis.
What was the Spanish Transition?
The Spanish Constitution of 1978 acknowledges Spain as a Plurinational State. This means the recognition of the different nations forming the state, namely the Catalan, Basque and Galician people. This recognition is the result of a very important struggle by popular movements during the transition period. This concession was not given for free, but was gained out in struggle.
Franco’s dictatorship did not recognize nationalities and harshly repressed any national expression, imposing a view that Spain was a totally homogenous country where all were Spanish and should respect the symbols, language, the Catholic religion, traditions and the institutionalised national heroes.
Recognition of the existing nationalities in the Spanish state was a victory, but it was very limited by the agreements reached during the transition period by the bourgeois parties, the Communist Party, the PSOE (Social democrats) and the main unions to accept the monarchy, the EU and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). At the time, they agreed a social pact — known as the Moncloa Pact – the intension of which was to paralyze the ongoing mobilizations that could sweep away the entire old regime.
The nationalities gained some rights, but not the right to self-determination. They were obliged to respect the legal framework of the Spanish State. Currently, the possibility of a separation can break this reactionary pact and lead the 78 Regime to a terminal crisis.
Gabriel Huland, Madrid, October 2017