Catalunya’s Struggle for Independence: Is the Spanish State is a “normal” capitalist state or is it an imperialist “prison of the people”?


It is important to bear in mind that Spain is not a “normal” capitalist state for two reasons. First it is an imperialist state with a long and extremely brutal history of colonialism in Latin America, Africa and Asia. In Latin America, Spanish colonial rule led to the death of 8.5 out of 10 million indigenous people in the years 1519 to 1564. While its capitalist economy developed belatedly and, hence, as a weaker imperialist state compared with, let’s say, France or Germany, it has nevertheless the fourth-largest economy in the Eurozone. It is home for a number of globally active multinational corporations like Banco Santander, Telefónica, or BBVA-Banco Bilbao Vizcaya which were ranked among the top 100 corporations in the Forbes Global 2000 list in 2011. [1]

Capital export plays an important role in big Spanish capital, as is reflected by its Foreign Direct Investment Outward Stock being 41.9% of its GDP, which is higher than the level of Italy (24.9%) and Germany (39.4%). [2]

In short, the Spanish state is an imperialist power, albeit not of the first order like the US, UK, Germany or France.

In addition, the Spanish state is not even a bourgeois democratic republic, but a state which combines parliamentary democracy with a reactionary monarchy at its top. The recent speeches of King Felipe VI, with his chauvinist denunciation of the Catalan’s desire for independence, are a powerful demonstration of the reactionary nature of this monarchy. Catalunya’s struggle for independence has therefore also an additional democratic character, as it is a struggle to free the Catalan people from the monarchist system.

Furthermore, it is a state with a large share of minority nationalities and, for this reason, a strong tradition of bureaucratic centralism and rabid chauvinism. According to official figures Catalan (or Valencian) is spoken by 17%, Galician by 5% and Basque by 2% of all Spaniards. In fact, these numbers could be higher, as a report published by Catalunya’s government indicates. (See Table 2)

In Spain there are 18.4 million people living in regions with more than one official language. This represents 41.3% of the total population of the State, which includes the regions of the autonomous communities of Catalonia, the Balearic Islands, the Comunitat Valenciana, Galicia, the Basque Country and Navarra. It is also necessary to highlight two other regions, with 2.3 million inhabitants, where in addition to Castilian other languages are spoken which have not achieved official status in their respective autonomous statutes. These are Aragon (where Castilian, Catalan and Aragonese are spoken, in different parts of the region) and Asturias, where Asturian is spoken.[3]


Table 2. Autonomous communities in which there is more than one official language [4]

Autonomous Community                              Population                          % of Spain

Catalonia                                                               7,134,697                              16.0

Balearic Islands                                                   1,001,062                                2.2

Comunitat Valenciana                                       4,806,908                              10.8

Galicia                                                                    2,767,524                                6.2

Basque Country                                                  2,133,684                                4.8

Navarra                                                                    601,874                                1.3

Total                                                                    18,445,749                             41.3


If we add to this the fact that 11-12% of Spain’s population are migrants, it becomes even more obvious that the country’s population has an extraordinary multinational composition. Hence, the dominance of the Castillian-dominated bourgeoisie and its state apparatus can only be maintained by massive national oppression and bureaucratic centralism of these minorities.

In other words, it is crucial to understand that the Spanish state is not a “normal” capitalist state. It is a state dominated by the imperialist Castilian bourgeoisie which, from its inception, discriminated and oppressed ethnic and national minorities like the Catalans, the Basques or the Galicians.

While it would take us too far afield to go into this in detail, we wish to remark that this Castillian chauvinist character of the Spanish state is a result of its peculiar history. The total defeat of an early bourgeois revolution of the cities in 1520/21 as well as of later rebellions against the absolutist reign in Madrid – both in Catalunya as well as other parts of the country – helped to foster a strong and arch-reactionary feudalist regime with very strong ties to the Catholic Church. The notorious Spanish Inquisition which began in 1478 and was absolutely abolished only in 1834, and which prosecuted about 150,000 persons, was also an important feature of the absolutist monarchy in Spain.

Likewise there was the vicious campaign of coerced Christianization, accompanied by numerous pogroms, which finally resulted in the complete expulsion of its non-Christian minorities like the Muslims (up to one million people) and the Jews (up to 350,000 people). This, too, was an early and bloody hallmark of Spanish chauvinism.

Furthermore, the Spanish state was characterized by its late unification with the long enduring relative autonomy of the Kingdoms of Aragon and Navarra. At the same time, it was precisely the regions of its ethnic/national minorities – such as the Basque Country, Catalunya, and Galicia – which experienced an industrial revolution in the 19th century earlier than in the rest of Spain. In the second half of the 19th century, about 80% of Spain’s industry was located in these regions (40% in Catalunya alone) and only 20% in the central regions of the country. [5]

Hence, a Castillian-dominated backward center in Madrid could only keep power over the economically more advanced minorities by imposing strict authoritarian centralization over them.

For all these reasons the Spanish state has always been a “prison of the people” and remains so until today.

[1] Forbes: Forbes Global 2000, Values calculated April 2011,

[2] UNCTAD: FDI outward stock as a percentage of GDP 1990-2016,

[3] Generalitat de Catalunya: Catalan, language of Europe, p. 25

[4] Generalitat de Catalunya: Catalan, language of Europe, p. 26

[5] Walther L. Bernecker, Horst Pietschmann: Geschichte Spaniens, p. 245