Catalonian Independence and Self-Determination: A Cautionary Tale
The struggle for Independence and Self-Determination by the people of Catalonia is also the same great struggle of many ethnic national minorities throughout the world. In the early twenty-first century we are witnessing the upheaval of the Kurdish people, the Québécois in the Canadian province of Québec, the Basque in Spain, even in the United States, where the political consciousness of the Mexican American colonialized people are beginning to awake from their slumber.
We only have to look towards Ukraine's Donbass region, where the Donbass workers, the fledging middle class, the coal miners and the intelligentsia of Luhansk and Donetsk are in armed conflict with the juggernaut of Kiev and its opulent but degenerate army. In our time, the National Question of nationalism, ethnic conflict, and self-determination is being raised in a far deeper sense with the surging vote for Independence that took place in October in Catalonia and threatened to erupt volcanically, beyond its borders.
There are among the bourgeoisie, political pundits and ‘worldly’ propagandists, including those ultra-right, ultra-left and liberal writers in the United States and Western Europe, who would like to see the National Question in countries like Spain disappear quietly from the front pages of newspapers, from the academic circles. In their own political nervousness they are well aware of the gathering political storm coming across all regions of Europe. Perhaps, even as we study these events in Catalonia, we can perceive why the European Union and NATO are more than concerned about effects of its ultimate encroachment upon Russia, for if they could break Russia, they then surmise they might be able to smother ethnic conflicts and seditious break-outs in regions like Catalonia seeking the inevitable rights of Independence and self-determination.
But are the oligarchs in London, Spain, France and Brussels willing to pay the price of a great regional war or even a world war to lock down the upheaval that will surely come with such Independence movements as that of the Catalans?
The National Question and the right for Independence and Self-Detonation should not be understood and perceived shallowly, for such a political struggle is one of life and death not only for the nation-state but for those national minorities who have needs for their own language, cultural and economic base to sustain themselves in a dignified way. And indeed, did not the right for Self-Determination emerge from the European encroachment and dominance of South America and the Caribbean islands long before the political rage for Independence among the national minorities in Western Europe and even in regions surrounding Russia proper?
As one progressive internet columnist inquired, “But what about the plight and fate of the hundreds of thousands of so-called 'Indentured Servants' from India who replaced the slaves? And the African descendants in South America who are as marginalized as ever? The Europeans are being asked to atone for their commission of The Worst Crimes Against Humanity known to humankind that resulted in the wholesale slaughter of the region’s First People and the subsequent brutal capture and shipment of millions of Africans into Slavery. But what about the legacy of 'Indentureship' ? "
The Colonial Question is central to the National Question of Independence and Self-Determination. What the Catalonians are struggling for in Catalonia has its roots in the struggle of peoples enslaved over two hundred years ago by European colonists in South America, the Caribbean Islands, including the Native Americans of North America and the ethnic indigenous Indians of Mexico.
The vast shadow cultural, political and economic submission is not unique to Catalonia.
But it is among the people of Catalonia that the specter of Independence is more than symbolic of those people across the world who want their own place in history. In the struggle of Catalonia, there is the mitigating fact that the self-imposed Catalan President and his political allies manipulated the Catalan people to vote overwhelming for Independence. However, that does not diminish their profound conscious right to be free from Madrid’s oppressive behavior towards them as a people who strive for full autonomy.
How do such political manipulations occur? As Stalin noted generations ago:
The bourgeoisie of the oppressed nation, repressed on every hand, is naturally stirred into movement. It appeals to its “native folk” and begins to shout about the “fatherland,” claiming that its own cause is the cause of the nation as a whole. It recruits itself an army from among it “countrymen” in the interest of… the “fatherland.” Nor do the “folk” always remain unresponsive to its appeals; they rally around its banner: the repression from affects them too and provokes their discontent. Thus the national movement begins.”
This does not mean all political representatives are ill-intended towards the national minority peoples. The Spanish Supreme Court in its impulsive and arrogant decision to charge the speaker of the Catalan parliament and five of its members with sedition and rebellion will only encourage the Catalans onto further militant action. What the Spanish regime is naïve about is what will eventually take place is the creation of militant Catalan political organizations that will take up arms against their oppressors, the Spanish police and Spanish politicians. The more militant Catalan revolutionaries will look outside their own national borders for nation-states to give them political, if not armed, support -- for such is the historical path of national struggles.
The Catalan Communist Party well understands the deeper significance of the revolt for Independence that took place through the voting machine in Barcelona and its outlying rural areas. As its major news outlet wrote with astute, political clarity in impeccable and sincere language:
"Our Party, which is closely following the development of events, has clearly expressed in its communiqués of 2 October and 11 October the Communist position in the face of the serious succession of events that we face.
"We have warned the working class and the popular sectors of all Spain, and especially of Catalonia, that there is no possibility of democratically exercising the right to self-determination in the framework of Spanish capitalism. We have explained the reasons why, from our point of view, the process of Independence in Catalonia has entered a deadlock. We have positioned ourselves with absolute force against all repression against the Catalan people and we have called to fight against the advance of the reaction. We have called on the working class to defend its organizational, political and ideological Independence against all nationalism, not to fight under false flags.
"The Spanish bourgeoisie, of which the Catalan bourgeoisie is a part, is moving towards a large-scale reform of the Spanish political system and using the pro-Independence process as a pretext for an even more rapid and reactionary advance. The agreement of the Council of Ministers yesterday, which the Communist Party flatly rejects, is one more piece of that gear.
The Catalan communists are not into mass political suicide, and they remember the facts of what happened during the Spanish Republic, when anarchism, liberalism and extremism from the left played their role in the decimation of the Catalan peoples at that time, and the repression that followed. It the struggle of the Catalan workers like any other nationalities to break away from the nationalist bourgeoisie and nationalistic aspirations.
The dialectical question for the workers and their allies who seek Independence and Self-Determination are conditions of economic, political and cultural conditions and nothing else.
Only one country, one nation, was able to sustain itself among ethnic national minorities who sought Self-Determination and Independence and -- that was the Soviet Union. It was not without foresight that Lenin gave the 'Stans' [Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Ubzekistan], the Mongols, the Tartars and other nationalities their right to govern themselves within the political framework of the Union of Socialist Republics. It was also these same peoples who fought and died for the preservation of the USSR against Nazi Germany and her allies during World War II. It should also be noted that none other than Stalin gave the Jews of Russia their own homeland, the Jewish Autonomous Oblast, known in the Russian language as Евре́йская автоно́мная о́бласть; in Yiddish known as “ייִדישע אװטאָנאָמע געגנט yidishe avtonome gegnt”.
And so, in these tumultuous and reactionary times, when there is such a deep lack of intellectual response to history and events, the most prudent should study the past to prepare for the future; or, as it could be said in the Catalan language, Per llibertat, cal lluitar per això.