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The Sport of the Gods: what is the likely outcome of the Catalan referendum

Instead of leading the political and economic regeneration of Spain Catalonia’s leaders are taking their region down a reactionary blind alley

Republished with the author’s permission; first published by Dialectic Productions

“This is the debt I pay/ Just for one riotous day,
Years of regret and grief/ Sorrow without relief.

Pay it I will to the end/ Until the grave, my friend,
Gives me a true release/ Gives me the clasp of peace.

Slight was the thing I bought/ Small was the debt I thought,
Poor was the loan at best/ God! but the interest!”

The Debt”, Paul Lawrence Dunbar

The October 1st Catalonian referendum, held across the region, quickly became marred with controversy following the Spanish Civil Guard’s violent crackdown, which quickly sowed antipathy between Catalans and the Spanish central government.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s brutal repression of voters at polling stations, which injured almost 900 people, and unilateral seizure of the referendum site, revealed a medieval, antiquated sentiment towards Catalonians unseen since the 1930s Francisco Franco dictatorship.

In his panic, Rajoy decried the referendum illegal (which it technically was, according to Section 148, Clause 1-32a of the Spanish constitution), his counterproductive actions merely emboldened Catalonians and incurred condemnation from the European bureaucracy.

As a result, 2.2 out of 5.3 million (29%) eligible Catalonians voted 90% in favour of independence, encouraging regional Prime Minister Charles Puigdemont to boldy call for secession within “a matter of days”.

The referendum comes years after the Spanish parliament retrenched parts of the Catalonian government’s 2006 Statute of Autonomy, to which, according to Catalonia Votes,

[…] was drastically altered by a controversial court ruling in 2010. Catalonia’s proposal for greater fiscal autonomy was then rejected [and attacks] against Catalonia’s education system and linguistic rights [also] increased and more and more recentralisation measures are being taken.

The Atlantic elaborates further,

Of the statute’s 223 articles, the court struck down 14 and curtailed another 27 [as well as] attempts to place the distinctive Catalan language above Spanish in the region [stating], “The interpretation of the references to ‘Catalonia as a nation’ and to ‘the national reality of Catalonia’ in the preamble of the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia have no legal effect.”

Despite the referendum’s initial successes and intense nationalist sentiments, inklings of dissent within Catalonia’s class strata have already begun to betray the populist revolution.

A day after the referendum, Deutsche Welle mentioned that,

[…] it would be highly unlikely that any EU state would recognize [Catalonia’s] independence. Such a direct attack on EU member state Spain would lead to a crisis within the bloc [and] why many EU diplomats in Brussels cannot imagine this scenario.

This analysis proved true as events took at turn for the worst, when European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans ignored Puigdemont’s pleas for an EU intervention.

Instead, he delegated this to European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas, who responded that,

For the European Commission … this is an internal matter for Spain that has to be dealt with in line with [its] constitutional order,” and “[we] trust the leadership of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to manage this difficult process.”

Most shockingly, however, was the Worker’s General Union (UGT) and Worker’s Commissions (CCOO) joint statement, which, contrary to popular opinion, did notcall for a general strike, but a

[…] ’go-slow’ of public transport services [at] 25 percent capacity during the morning and evening rush hours [and] Inter-regional transport services [at] 33 percent capacity.

It explains further,

UGT’s General Secretary, Pepe Álvarez, has reminded that “this is a political conflict and it needs political solutions.” […] Social mobilization in Catalonia has been unquestionable and it expresses, with no doubt, the existence of a political conflict which cannot be handled unilaterally by the Catalan Government, or exclusively from administrative and judicial points of view.

Russia Today also reports that,

The two most powerful national unions have called on workers to show solidarity in the face of “disproportionate” violence employed by the police and Guardia Civil but have not called for a Spanish general strike as the situation does not relate to a labor conflict but a political one.

Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau seconded this days before the referendum,

We are not just facing an institutional dispute but also a social and political conflict that clearly has to be resolved by political means. There are many non-separatists such as ourselves, who, while critical of the unilateral path taken by the Catalan regional government, are calling for a negotiated solution in accordance with the feelings of 82% of the Catalan population [and] it is my obligation [to] call on the European commission to open a space for mediation between the Spanish and Catalan governments to find a negotiated and democratic solution to the conflict.

This is because a month prior, the CCOO published a report lambasting the high levels of unemployment in Catalonia and diminished collective bargaining rights amongst its trade unions, which it blames on the 2012 National Appeals’ ruling and Labour Market Reform Act, stressing that it and UGT are currently in negotiations with the Spanish government to resolve this.

The think tank Worker Participation explains further,

A recent major tripartite agreement [signed] in February 2011 [was] an agreement on pensions, but it also [included] measures to reduce unemployment, industrial and energy policy, a promise by the government to reopen talks with the unions on the public sector, and reforming the collective bargaining system.

It continues,

In 2011, the socialist-led government introduced legal changes (RDL 7/2011) giving a greater role to company bargaining and the current centre-right government [added] legislation in 2012 (Ley 3/2012) – developments which the unions have opposed.

This gives rise to a massive contradiction within the independence movement, which is a conflict of interests between the Catalonian regional government and various bureaucracies within its wealthiest cities, whom, due to their class standing, could undermine Puigdemont in order to make a compromise with the Rajoy administration on its coveted pensions campaign.

The myth of immutable social systems

The Catalans, according to the media, are pushing for independence based on their ‘cultural repression’ by the Spanish central government. However, according to historical materialism, one cannot determine historical events based on culture alone.

Former USSR Premier Joseph Stalin defines the driving force of historical materialism as,

[the] method of procuring the means of life necessary for human existence, the mode of production of material values – food, clothing, footwear, houses, fuel, instruments of production, etc. – which are indispensable for the life and development of society.

Speaking on dialectics, he mentions that it,

[holds] that nature is not a state of rest and immobility [but] a state of continuous movement and change, [where] something is always arising and developing, and something always disintegrating and dying away.

What is ‘arising and developing’ in Europe is the supremacy of the European Union bureaucracy over the all affairs of its member states, and what is ‘disintegrating and dying’ is the superstructural relevance of its nation-states—subversion of the nation-state to the superstate.

Additionally, the seemingly intransigent ideologies of the Spanish central and Catalonian regional governments share a dialectical relationship to Spain’s means of production, which unfortunately are no longer Spanish, but the European Union’s—a new model of the international cartel.

Vladimir Lenin’s book “Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism” elucidates,

International cartels show to what point capitalist monopolies have developed, and the object of the struggle between the various capitalist associations [which] shows us the historico-economic meaning of what is taking place; for the forms of the struggle may and do constantly change in accordance with varying, relatively specific and temporary causes, but the substance of the struggle, its class content, positively cannot change while classes exist. Naturally, it is in [the bourgeoisie’s] interests to obscure the substance of the present economic struggle (the division of the world) and to emphasise now this and now another form of the struggle.

Therefore, the true dialectic within Spain is not “Spanish vs. Catalan culture”, but the proportional division of the European bourgeoisie into the region, nation-state, and superstate; all whom, via finance capitalism, install its dictatorship of the bourgeoisie acting as the state force, wrest the means of production from the proletariat, reshape their relationships to the means of production through bureaucracy, and transform the social contracts within its authority.

Puigdemont and his ilk understand this perfectly and are using their massive reserve army of the unemployed—currently 22.7% of the Catalonian population—as a battering ram against Spain, using Rajoy’s tactless crackdown to garner sympathy from the international community.

Neither Puigdemont nor any of the Spanish trade unions have bothered to disclose the true source of their troubles—finance capitalism—where the bourgeoisie was directly responsible responsible for the greatest heist in human history. Instead, they scrounge opportunistically for piecemeal solutions rather than directly challenging the source of their conflict!

So, as this contest between these class strata continues, where Rajoy cites the “immutability” of the Spanish constitution, and Puigdemont cites the “immutability” of the right to self-determination, neither are as “immutable” as the EU—the primary force in European economics—which, like Rajoy and King Fillip VI, does not want a divided Europe.

A material assessment of Catalonia’s economic future

Although Puigdemont believes that Catalonia can secede from the Spanish state, it cannot relinquish the European Economic Area (EEA), but gambled this anyway with the referendum.

However, as the EU now sides with the Spanish central authorities, Puigdemont has completely changed his rhetoric to a vacuous, conciliatory call for dialogue, because he understands that the reigning bourgeoisie have called his bluff on his monumental gamble.

Also, since the EU bureaucracy has de jure monopolised Europe’s means of production, should Catalonia leave Spain, it would also leave the EU, but ultimately eviscerate all three economies, which are wholly interdependent and intertwined.

Catalonian-born Chief Economic Adviser for the World Economic Forum Xavier Sala-i-Martin highlighted that,

The EU accounted for 65.8% of Catalan exports in 2016, 7 percentage points more than in 2015. It is followed by the rest of Europe (7.4%) and Asia (6.5%), which moves to third place in terms of exported volume, ahead of Latin America (5.9%). France accounts for 16.1% of Catalan exports. Germany (11.9%), along with Italy (9.1%), Portugal (6.7%) and the UK (6.0%) represent nearly half (49.7%) of Catalan exports in 2016.

Therefore Catalonia would spend significantly more on tariffs alone and evaporate nearly half of its trade, giving rise to a crippling trade deficit and sinking into an economic depression.

According to Catalonia Votes (2013), 15.5 million tourists visited the region, 36.5% of its population are foreigners, and its economy achieved €63.8 mln. in exports—25% to Spain, and 65% to the EU member states. This is what helped Catalonia ‘thrive’ as a region—only inasmuch as it retains unmitigated access to the EU common market and ‘free movement’ of labour.

Unfortunately, the EU has socialised the divisions of labour through state-enforced capitalism—at gunpoint, penpoint, and PowerPoint—so much that Catalonia has few economic contingencies. Additionally, Spain knows that, without Catalonia, it would lose over one-third of its GDP and a significant portion of its diversified industrial base, whilst provoking the anger of its largest trading partners whom are the EU’s biggest economies, according to OEC figures.

He continues, making note of the Spanish debt question,

Even worse for Spain would be if the national government works to actively oppose a Catalonia that declares independence and therefore refuses to reach a debt transfer agreement […] If that were the case, then its debt-to-GDP ration would balloon to something approaching 125 percent […] With the richest region gone and with almost unsustainable debt, then Spain is in big trouble.

This is how Catalonia plans to blackmail both Spain and the EU; bursting their debt bubbles.

The Catalonian independence movement is, in fact, a bourgeois phenomenon which, like economic fascism, exploits the working class by with superstructural tactics-as-plan for the personal gain of that respective society’s bourgeoisie.

With Spain’s class strata competing for the blessings of the European Commission, one could deduce that King Felipe VI and PM Rajoy will remain the undisputed winner, but, to err on the side of caution, one could assume two potential outcomes:

  1. An admission of defeat for the Catalonian regional government, leading to PM Charles Puigdemont’s resignation (or head) and restored normalcy in the EU bureaucracy OR
  2. Catalonia’s complete breakaway from Spain, causing an economic and political crisis, which will embolden other secessionists, leading to a near-collapse in the European Union and a prolonged battle of attrition between regional, nation-state, and superstate power structures.

Rather than Catalonia attacking the very system of exploitation through its economic significance and revolutionary history to rally the Spanish proletariat, it has chosen to gamble its future away in a reactionary bid for ‘independence’. However, because the EU is a system of coercive interdependence, the most likely outcome is failure, bitter enmity between Catalans and Castilians, and a gradual return to socioeconomic ‘normalcy’, leaving the working class intact.

In his economic manuscripts, Marx sums up the Catalan question perfectly,

[…] Its idealism is fantasy, caprice and whim; and no eunuch flatters his despot more basely or uses more despicable means to stimulate his dulled capacity for pleasure in order to sneak a favour for himself than does the industrial eunuch – the producer – in order to sneak for himself a few pieces of silver […] out of the pockets of his dearly beloved neighbours in Christ. 

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