Catalunya’s Struggle for Independence: Does the independence struggle split the working class of Spain?


Let us finally deal with another argument of the pseudo-Marxist opponents of Catalunya’s independence. They refer to the multi-ethnic character of the working class in Catalunya as well as to the dangers of a split of the proletariat in Spain along nationalist lines.

For example the League for the Fifth International (L5I), which increasingly forgets its revolutionary roots, writes: “Nevertheless, we also need to be aware that this conflict could well unleash dangerous and destructive forces of national chauvinism, dividing and poisoning the consciousness of the working class and youth of the entire Spanish state. It is no wonder that both Rajoy and Puigdemont head neoliberal, right wing, bourgeois parties and will be delighted to see the workers and other progressive forces divided and pitted against one another.” [1]

And in another article, these comrades state: “Therefore a unilateral and irrevocable declaration of independence by the parliamentary majority, let alone by Carles Puigdemont as President of the autonomous regional authority, would run the danger of splitting the population into those for and against complete independence. (...) Given the circumstances in which the referendum was organised and conducted, the result, whilst high, is not a qualitative change from the 40 to 45 per cent reputable opinion polls showed to be in favour of independence, and is clearly not a mandate for secession. (...) The relatively weak response of the organised working class on October 3 indicates that any unilateral declaration of independence, which Puigdemont insists will come in a few days, will not have the support of a majority of Catalans or of the working class of the province. (...) The first victim of the conflict between Spanish chauvinists and Catalan nationalists has been the working class across the peninsula.[2]

As a matter of fact we have to point out that the multi-ethnic character of the working class in Catalunya is not a new phenomenon but has been the case throughout the whole history of the region’s capitalist development. Such, for example, in 1900 23% of all workers in Barcelona and 31% in 1920 came from other provinces. [3]

This, however, has never stopped Marxists to support Catalonia’s right of national self-determination. Trotsky made this very clear in his programmatic work on the Spanish Revolution in 1931.

However, precisely in order to draw the line between the nationally, oppressed workers and peasants and their bourgeoisie, the proletarian vanguard must occupy the boldest and sincerest position in the question of national self-determination. The workers will fully and completely defend the right of the Catalonians and Basques to lead an independent state life, in the event that the majority of these nationalities have expressed themselves for complete separation.[4]

Of course, Marxists do not light-mindedly support the separation and the creation of a new state. They do so only if the majority of a given nation wishes to do so. In the 1930s, Trotsky did not positively advocate Catalunya’s independence as he did not consider it as clear that the majority of the Catalan people wish for this.

Today, we have a different situation. Contrary to the mythology which is spread by various economists like the L5I, the Catalan people have made clear their wish for independence. They have done this by regular mass mobilizations of more than a million in the past years – when, in comparison, the pro-Spanish chauvinists never achieved any mobilization in a similar size. Their by far most successful show of force was their demonstration on 8 October which was attended by not more than 350.000 people (including unashamed Franco admirers and Neo-Nazis). It is however important to bear in mind that this demonstration included many non-Catalan participants which were transported with buses from outside of Catalunya. In other words, even this demonstration does not reflect the real state of weak support for the pro-Spanish sector.

The Catalan people have shown their wish for independence when they elected a parliament in September 2015 in which the pro-independence parties have a majority of deputies. They have shown this even more in the historic referendum on 1 October, when more than 92.01% voted Yes for independence. The turnout of the referendum was 43.03% - despite a massive and brutal repression by the Spanish police. As a result of this repression the ballots of many voters were destroyed or they were actually hindered to vote at all. All in all the Catalan government estimates that 770,000 additional voters – 14.5% of all registered voters – would have been able to have their votes counted. It is simple logic that the 770,000 votes which could not be counted would have a similar 90% pro-independence result as the rest of the votes. This means an additional 13% in favor of independence to the counted 43%. Add to this the many people which did not go to the polls out of fear of repression. In short, this referendum made very clear that the majority of the Catalan people support the creation of an independent state.

This was finally confirmed once more by the huge and militant general strike on 3 October which was a powerful demonstration that the majority of the Catalan working class supports independence despite the repression of the state and despite the bureaucratic sabotage of the trade union leaderships.

Naturally, Marxists must not discount the negative influence of bourgeois Catalan nationalism. They must wage a program for full equality for all ethnical and national groups in Catalunya – in particular the numerous migrants. There are strong starting points for this since Barcelona is home of the most powerful pro-refugee solidarity movement in the whole of Europe. This has been demonstrated in numerous mass demonstrations in defense of the rights of refugees and against the imperialist fortress Europe. This shows, by the way, how absurd the accusations of numerous pseudo-left fools are which accuse the Catalan national movement as “chauvinist” and “xenophobic”. In fact, the Catalan national movement in its majority is clearly progressive and anti-racist. And it is in particular very progressive and anti-fascist if we compare it with the arch-reactionary and chauvinist pro-Spanish unity demonstrations which are always a pole of attraction for the Franco supporters!

Likewise, as we elaborated in various statements in recent weeks, Marxists in Catalunya should argue for a joint perspective of struggle of the workers in the whole of Spain.

But we strongly reject the idiotic argument that Marxists should oppose independence because it would split the working class. The working class is first and foremost split by national oppression and capitalist exploitation! It is united not by the boundary posts of an imperialist monarchy but by the struggle for joint goals against a common enemy. Such joint goals could be demands like democracy and freedom, equality, higher wages, etc. The current high state of mobilization of the Catalan working class around the issue of independence – as well as the broad sympathies they receive from the brothers and sisters in Euskadi and Galicia – are a strong factor for a higher stage of class struggle in the whole of Spain.

[1] L5I: Spain: Defeat Rajoy’s coup against Catalonia, 21/09/2017,

[2] L5I: Defend democracy in Spain and Catalonia, 04/10/2017,

[3] Walther L. Bernecker, Horst Pietschmann: Geschichte Spaniens, p. 249

[4] Leon Trotsky: The Revolution In Spain (1931), in: Leon Trotsky: The Spanish Revolution (1931-39), Pathfinder Press, New York 1973, p. 78,