Spartacist Canada No. 185
Independence for Catalonia and for the Basque Country!
Down With the European Union!
For a Socialist United States of Europe!
The following article is reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 1066 (17 April), newspaper of the Spartacist League/U.S.
Last November, 2.3 million people in Catalonia defied the central government of Spain and voted in an unofficial referendum on independence. More than 80 percent of those who voted answered yes to both questions posed: “Do you want Catalonia to be a State?” and “If so, do you want Catalonia to be an independent State?” The vote was the culmination of years of growing pro-independence sentiment in this region of 7.5 million people in the northeast of Spain. The rabid chauvinism of the Castilian bourgeoisie, coupled with European Union (EU)-imposed economic austerity, has brought to the fore the centuries-old divisions between the central government and Spain’s smaller, oppressed nationalities, such as the Catalans.
The massive participation in the November 9 vote was a powerful riposte to the Spanish parliament’s decision last April to outlaw a referendum on independence. It was also a clear indication that the direction of national sentiment in Catalonia is strongly toward separation from Spain and not toward assimilation. In accordance with this, the International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist) demands: Independence for Catalonia!
As revolutionary Marxists, our advocacy of Catalonia’s secession from Spain is aimed at removing the question of national oppression from the agenda in order to bring to the fore the necessity for a fight by the working class against the capitalist class enemy in both Spain and Catalonia. The capitalist rulers, whether Castilian or Catalan, use nationalism to obscure the fact that working people do not share a common interest with their “own” exploiters and to sow divisions between workers of different nationalities. An independent Catalonia would demonstrate more clearly to the workers there that the Catalan bourgeois and petty-bourgeois nationalists are no fighters for liberation from exploitation and social oppression. Independence would also shake up the capitalist order in the rest of Spain as well as give a jolt to the imperialist EU, which would help open the road to class struggle.
We reject the assertion by the Castilian bourgeoisie and Spain’s monarchy of the “indissoluble unity of the Spanish Nation.” This was enshrined in the bourgeois-democratic constitution adopted in 1978, three years after the death of General Francisco Franco, whose bonapartist dictatorship held sway for almost 40 years. The Spanish constitution explicitly denies the democratic right of self-determination for Catalans, Basques and Galicians, which are distinct nationalities with their own languages. The ICL has always upheld the right to self-determination of these oppressed nations in Spain.
A central obstacle to working-class unity in Spain in the post-Franco period has been the extreme chauvinism directed at the Basque people. There has been a long struggle for Basque independence. Every “democratic” government, including under the Socialist Workers Party (PSOE), has continued the Franco dictatorship’s bloody campaign of terror against Basque separatism. The profound divisions between workers in the Basque region and those in the rest of Spain are reflected in the predominance of separate, nationalist trade unions in the Basque country. It has been evident for some time that these divisions cannot be overcome except through the struggle for independence for the Basques. While the ICL has long upheld the right of the Basques to secede and vigorously defended Basque victims of capitalist state repression, we have been remiss in not advocating Basque independence until now. Independence for the Basque country!
There does not currently appear to be mass sentiment for independence in the part of the Basque country lying across the northern border of Spain in France, or in northern Catalonia in France, where Catalan is spoken. The Ligue Trotskyste de France, section of the ICL, nonetheless upholds the right to self-determination of the Basques and Catalans, i.e., their right to secede from the French state. This would include the right to join an independent Catalonia or Basque country. The ICL also upholds the right of other Catalan-speaking regions of Spain, such as the Balearic Islands, to join an independent Catalonia. Our call for independence for Catalonia and the Basque country is an application of the Leninist position recognizing the right to self-determination of all nations. As Lenin wrote in his 1916 The Socialist Revolution and the Right of Nations to Self-Determination:
“The right of nations to self-determination implies exclusively the right to independence in the political sense, the right to free political separation from the oppressor nation. Specifically, this demand for political democracy implies complete freedom to agitate for secession and for a referendum on secession by the seceding nation.”
Only by supporting independence for Catalonia and the Basque country can the proletariat in Spain demonstrate that it opposes the national chauvinism of its own ruling class, enabling it to win the confidence and class solidarity of workers in the oppressed nations and remove suspicion or distrust. At the same time, the workers of the oppressed Catalan and Basque nations must struggle for political independence from their respective national bourgeoisies, which wield the call for “national liberation” as a tool for deceiving and dividing the workers along national lines.
Bourgeois Rivalries in Multinational Spain
The Castilian bourgeoisie’s determination to prevent any prospect of an independent Catalonia or Basque country is in no small part due to the fact that these are among the most industrialized and economically productive regions of Spain, with huge concentrations of finance capital. Today, Catalonia (with 16 percent of the total population) contributes about 20 percent of Spain’s gross domestic product. The second-largest bank in Spain is the Basque Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria (BBVA), which has extensive investments in Latin America. A retired Spanish army colonel snarled in a 2012 interview: “The independence of Catalonia? Over my dead body and those of many others.” Given Spain’s bloody history, these are not idle threats.
Following the collapse of Spain’s real estate bubble in 2008 and an ensuing financial crisis, part of the world economic depression, the imperialist rulers of the EU and the Spanish bourgeoisie have subjected working people to mass layoffs and savage austerity, with over 5.4 million currently out of work. This situation has fueled bourgeois nationalism on all sides.
The national ruling party, the Popular Party (PP), descends politically from Francoism and embodies pro-monarchy, right-wing Catholic reaction. It has intensified anti-Catalan sentiment in a transparent attempt to distract attention from the bourgeoisie’s responsibility for the ongoing economic crisis. For years, the PP has blocked attempts by Catalonia to gain greater autonomy from the central government and refused to renegotiate the terms under which tax income is distributed between Madrid and Barcelona (Catalonia’s capital) and what share of the national expense is devoted to Catalonia. The PP merchants of homelessness and hunger have hypocritically promoted the chauvinist stereotype of Catalans as greedy and lacking in “solidarity” with the poorer parts of Spain.
The vile chauvinism emanating from Madrid has provoked a strong reaction in Catalonia. A catalyst for this anger was the decision in 2010 by Spain’s Constitutional Court to overturn numerous articles of Catalonia’s 2006 autonomy statute, including the section that recognized Catalonia as a nation. This was the outcome of the PP’s legal challenge against no less than 128 out of 223 articles in the statute. The day after the Constitutional Court decision was announced, over one million people in Catalonia protested, carrying banners reading: “We Are a Nation!”
The Catalan bourgeoisie, represented by the Convergència i Unió (Convergence and Union) coalition and its more left-sounding tails in the Esquerra Republicana (Republican Left), who together currently dominate Catalonia’s Generalitat government, mirrors the Castilian bourgeoisie’s hypocrisy. They have conveniently blamed the economic crisis in Catalonia on the rest of Spain, pointing to unfavorable terms of taxation and lack of infrastructure investment by the central government, which are hurting their profits. Simultaneously, the Generalitat has itself shoved austerity down the throats of workers and the poor.
Following the demise of the Franco regime, the Catalan bourgeoisie saw its task as trying to gradually acquire more autonomy from the central government. The Basque and Catalan bourgeois nationalists had extracted concessions by supporting at different points both PSOE and PP governments when those parties did not win enough votes to form a national government on their own. However, after the economic crisis hit, the PSOE government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero initiated the austerity drive. It had also earlier reneged on some of its promises to Catalonia. When the PP was elected in 2011, it was able to form a government without the support of any of the regional bourgeois-nationalist parties, enabling it to act with unrestrained hostility against any decentralizing tendencies and thereby pushing more of the Catalan bourgeoisie toward independence.
Also a key factor in the turn toward independence by a section of the Catalan bourgeoisie is Catalonia’s weakening link to the Spanish market—for years it has sold more of its manufactured goods on the international market than domestically, with a large proportion of these exports going to other EU countries. Catalonia’s relative weight in Spain’s economy also declined as the result of a conscious policy by the Castilian bourgeoisie to build up the areas surrounding Madrid as an industrial center in the 1960s and 1970s. This diminished the relative economic dominance of Catalonia and the Basque region and established more of a direct economic rivalry between the different national bourgeoisies.
EU Fuels National Chauvinism
While the Catalan bourgeoisie remains divided over the question of independence, all sides, including those that favor secession, are committed to the reactionary imperialist EU. The Catalan bourgeoisie has profited from the EU and, despite the devastation wrought by EU-imposed austerity, many working people in Catalonia who support independence favor staying in the EU.
The ICL has stood from the outset in principled opposition to the imperialist EU and its monetary instrument, the euro. The EU is an unstable consortium of rival capitalist states, dominated by the main imperialist powers, principally Germany. These powers seek to increase their competitive edge against their U.S. and Japanese imperialist rivals, exploit the workers throughout Europe and subordinate the weaker European countries like Greece, Portugal, Spain and Ireland as well as those in East Europe. Through the mechanism of the euro zone, Germany and other creditor states demand that debtor countries become more “competitive” by slashing wages, pensions and social spending. Recognizing that the euro would be an instrument of the EU imperialists, the ICL opposed its introduction. We stated that capitalism is organized on a national basis and that a common European currency was not viable.
For all the Catalan bourgeoisie’s talk of attaining “fiscal sovereignty” and opposing Madrid-imposed austerity, its pledge to stay in the EU means ceding control over interest rates, spending and monetary policy to Frankfurt and Brussels. And the imperialist masters of the EU have made clear that they don’t look kindly upon secessionist moves that could further destabilize the capitalist order in Europe. Thus, German chancellor Angela Merkel last August made a point of conspicuously supporting Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy against any move toward independence by Catalonia.
The EU rulers have whipped up nationalism, pitting workers in countries like Germany, Britain and France against those in weaker countries. The failure of the reformist workers parties and trade-union bureaucrats to oppose the EU has spurred the growth of reactionary and outright fascist forces that channel discontent over austerity into hatred of immigrants and Muslims in particular. Maintaining vulnerable layers of workers with few legal rights helps the capitalists drive down wages and working conditions for everyone. In opposition to these divide-and-rule schemes we say: Full citizenship rights for all immigrants! No deportations!
Opposing all forms of nationalism, we seek to lay the programmatic foundations for building revolutionary workers parties as part of a reforged, Trotskyist Fourth International. Only such parties can lead the working class in seizing the means of production and expropriating the bourgeoisie internationally through a series of socialist revolutions. Instead, reformist leftists promote the fantasy of building a “social Europe” under capitalism. Down with the imperialist EU! For a Socialist United States of Europe!
Free All Basque Nationalists Now!
The workers movement in Spain and France must forthrightly oppose the sinister crusade by the Spanish and French states against the petty-bourgeois nationalists of Basque Homeland and Freedom (ETA) and their sympathizers. The reformist misleaders of the PSOE and the Spanish Communist Party (PCE) have instead spent years lining workers up behind the Castilian bourgeoisie and against the Basques. In the campaign against the Basques, Madrid has banned political parties and protests, shut down newspapers and rounded up sympathizers of Basque independence—repressive measures that have been used throughout Spanish history to crush militant workers’ struggles also.
On January 10, more than 75,000 people marched in the streets of Bilbao to demand an end to the Spanish state’s practice of “dispersing” Basque nationalist prisoners to far-flung locations, with protesters raising chants demanding freedom and “total amnesty” for Basque militants. Two days later, the Spanish state carried out raids in four cities, using charges of money laundering and tax evasion to arrest 16 people dedicated to the legal defense of Basque activists. Those victimized included 12 lawyers, many of whom were due in court in Madrid for the start of a trial of 35 people charged with belonging to a terrorist organization.
As part of this transparent political witchhunt, the Civil Guard searched the offices of organizations including the pro-independence Basque trade union Langile Abertzaleen Batzordeak (Commissions of Patriotic Workers), which represents tens of thousands of Basque workers. There they seized 90,000 euros in small bills and coins that had been collected at the demonstration two days earlier. We demand the dropping of all charges! Down with anti-Basque repression!
While we Marxists oppose ETA’s nationalist outlook as well as the petty-bourgeois strategy of individual terrorism it once practiced (ETA has now renounced armed struggle), we defend ETA against state repression. Acts of retribution against individual representatives of the capitalist state and ruling class are a losing substitute for, and obstacle to, the necessary struggle to replace the entire rotting capitalist system by mobilizing the social power of the working class in socialist revolution. While the acts that Basque militants have carried out against the capitalist state and its agents are not a crime from the standpoint of working people, the reactionary logic of nationalism leads to appalling acts of indiscriminate terror as well, such as ETA’s criminal bombing of a supermarket in a working-class suburb of Barcelona in 1987. Such crimes have served only to drive Catalan and Spanish workers further into the arms of their own chauvinist bourgeoisies.
The Origins and Character
of Catalan Nationalism
Catalonia has long had a strong sense of regional identity, with its own language, Catalan, now spoken by over ten million people in Catalonia as well as the Balearic Islands, northern Catalonia and Valencia. As a feudal principality under the Spanish crown, Catalonia repeatedly came into conflict with the monarchy. It was highly symbolic that the November 9 referendum took place around the time of the 300th anniversary of the defeat of the Catalan principality in the War of the Spanish Succession in 1714. Catalonia had backed the Habsburg claim to the Spanish throne against the Bourbons and was punished by the Bourbon victors with the suppression of its parliament and traditional liberties. (As a result of that war, Louis XIV, a Bourbon himself, consolidated France’s hold on Roussillon, the part of Catalonia north of the Pyrenees.) Known as la Diada, the day of Catalonia’s surrender, 11 September 1714, is today commemorated as the National Day of Catalonia.
The birth of Catalan nationalism dates not to a war over royal succession but to the era of the consolidation of industrial capitalism in the 19th century. It was through the emergence of textile manufacturing in the 18th century in Barcelona that a nascent bourgeoisie first appeared in Spain. Catalan capitalism developed after the lifting of restrictions on trade with Spain’s colonies in 1780. The Catalan bourgeoisie thrived especially on the colonial rape of Cuba, where slavery was abolished only in 1886.
By the late 19th century, Catalonia and the Basque region had become the main industrial centers of Spain, with Basque industry centered on metallurgy and Catalan industry on light manufacturing. As the Catalan bourgeoisie came together to lobby the central government for protection of its industries, a Catalan intellectual elite increasingly saw itself as the leading voice for modernization in Spain. The 19th-century cultural movement known as the “Renaissance,” which promoted the Catalan language and arts, was a reflection of these economic and political developments.
Outside of the centers of Basque and Catalan industry, most of Spain remained mired in backwardness well into the 20th century. Dating back to the 16th century, the Spanish Habsburg monarchy helped suppress development toward a unified nation-state and encouraged regional divisions. Accumulating gold and silver from the mines in Latin America, the crown was hostile to the growth of trade and manufacturing within the Spanish territories of the Iberian Peninsula. A decadent monarchy and its medieval, obscurantist Catholic church ruled over a huge peasantry, which toiled under a landowning class derived from the old feudal nobility. As Bolshevik leader Leon Trotsky noted: “Spain’s retarded economic development inevitably weakened the centralist tendencies inherent in capitalism.... The meagerness of the national resources and the feeling of restlessness all over the country could not help but foster separatist tendencies” (“The Revolution in Spain,” January 1931).
As large numbers of workers from different parts of Spain flooded into the Basque and Catalan industries in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Catalonia became a center of working-class radicalism. Catalan nationalism was therefore characterized from its inception both by a timid fight for regional autonomy and support for the Spanish state’s suppression of workers’ struggle. Early nationalist organizations like the Lliga Regionalista (Regionalist League) stood for the repression of the convulsive wave of struggles that swept Catalonia in the early 20th century, from the Barcelona General Strike of 1902 and the anti-militarist, anti-clerical revolt known as the Tragic Week of 1909 to the General Strike of 1917 and the Barcelona lockout of 1919-20. It was fear of working-class revolt that led the Catalan bourgeoisie to support Miguel Primo de Rivera’s military coup of 1923. His regime proceeded to repress Catalonia’s limited self-rule, suppress the Catalan language and even shut down the Barcelona football club!
In 1930, in the aftermath of the onset of the Great Depression, the Primo de Rivera regime, already rotting from within, fell, ushering in a period of mass workers struggles in Spain. Following the collapse of the monarchy in 1931, a capitalist Republican government was formed, headed by a coalition of bourgeois Republicans with the Socialists. Under this regime, an autonomous Catalan regional government known as the Generalitat was formed, led by the bourgeois-nationalist Esquerra Republicana.
But the spectre of workers revolution drove the bulk of the Catalan bourgeoisie to support Franco’s counterrevolutionary forces in Spain’s Civil War of 1936-39. The Catalan bourgeoisie understood very well that Spain’s workers and peasants, who had been inspired by the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, were fighting not merely for a more democratic form of government but for a social revolution to end their exploitation and oppression. So the Catalan capitalists put their class interests ahead of their national aspirations, which were again to be crushed under the boot of Francoist repression.
Betray Workers’ Struggle
Catalan nationalists today hold up Esquerra leader Lluís Companys, the president of the regional government when it fell to Franco, as a hero-martyr. In fact, Companys along with the Stalinist Communists, the Socialists and the anarchists sat in the Generalitat government that bloodily repressed the working-class insurrection of the Barcelona May Days of 1937. The Stalinists led the assault on the workers, but it was the leaders of the anarchists and the centrist Workers Party of Marxist Unification (POUM, which had earlier been part of the Catalan government) who were instrumental in persuading the workers to take down their barricades. This was a pivotal event in the defeat of the Spanish Revolution.
The betrayal of workers revolution showed vividly that the policy of forming a popular-front alliance with bourgeois parties like the Esquerra in Catalonia was utterly suicidal for the working class. As we wrote about the Barcelona May Days in “Trotskyism vs. Popular Frontism in the Spanish Civil War” (Spartacist [English edition] No. 61, Spring 2009):
“Power was in the grasp of the heroic Barcelona workers. Yet by week’s end, the workers had been disarmed and their barricades dismantled—a result not of military defeat but of sabotage, confusion and defeatism sown by the workers’ misleaders.... Victory in Barcelona could have led to a workers and peasants Spain and set Europe aflame in revolutionary struggle on the eve of World War II. Defeat opened the way to intense repression, including the suppression of the POUM and the murder or imprisonment of its leaders. Having thus disarmed the proletariat, the popular front opened the gates to Franco’s forces and a bloody reign of rightist reaction.”
While the working class of Spain paid for the popular-front betrayals of its leaders with blood, the reformist misleaders never abandoned the politics of class collaboration. The rapid industrialization of Spain through large foreign investment in the 1960s and early ’70s increased the size and self-confidence of the working class, which heroically challenged the Franco regime in its dying days. Following Franco’s death in 1975, Spain exploded in a wave of protests and strikes against the regime’s brutal suppression of trade unions, leftist parties and national minorities. However, the leaders of the PSOE and the PCE sought to rein in these struggles and channeled them toward a “peaceful” transition to bourgeois democracy. The PSOE and PCE supported the 1978 constitution that recognized Franco’s chosen successor, King Juan Carlos, as head of state of a Spanish “nation.” Today, the PCE sellouts have the audacity to call for a referendum to get rid of Spain’s corrupt monarchy.
The situation today is very different from the period of the Civil War and the workers’ insurgency in the mid-late 1970s. Marxists have to take this into account in dealing with the concretes of the national question. The recognition of the right of a given nation to secede does not necessarily mean that one would advocate secession at a particular time. Lenin often used the analogy of the recognition of the right of divorce, which of course does not mean that one demands the dissolution of any and every marriage.
At the time of the Civil War, the Catalan and Basque proletariat stood at the head of their class in a revolutionary situation that posed pointblank the possibility of overcoming national divisions through the workers coming to power. It would have made no sense to advocate independence at that time. But for some years now, it has been evident that relations between the Basque and Spanish workers have been poisoned. And in Catalonia today, discontent within the proletariat is increasingly manifesting itself not in an assimilationist direction—i.e., seeing its fate as joined with that of the Spanish proletariat—but rather in pronounced separatist sentiments.
Rotten Social Democrats
and Bourgeois Populists
The PSOE demonstrated its hatred for oppressed nationalities when it unleashed death squads, dubbed “anti-terrorist liberation groups” (GAL), against the Basque people in the 1980s. Today the PSOE is united with the ruling PP in chauvinist opposition to a Catalan referendum. It calls for making Spain a federation, in which Catalonia would supposedly have greater powers. This amounts to minor tinkering with the existing setup of regional autonomy, the essential point being that Catalonia will remain under the thumb of Castilian chauvinism. A similar position for a federated bourgeois state is held by the Izquierda Unida (IU) coalition, led by the PCE.
The post-1978 political order in Spain is unraveling. The parties that have dominated the electoral arena, the PSOE and PP, have both undergone a sharp drop in support, associated with their implementation of widely hated austerity measures. The presumption of a unitary Spain has been challenged in Catalonia and elsewhere.
Stepping into this breach with the mission of refurbishing Spanish bourgeois democracy is the Podemos party, a formation based on the petty bourgeoisie that issued out of the 2011 Indignados movement. Podemos is totally committed to maintaining the EU. Like the Indignados movement—and like its Greek counterpart Syriza—the populist Podemos claims to represent all classes of people against the political and business elites, which it has dubbed “la casta” (the caste). Podemos’ populism is designed to obscure the understanding that the fundamental division in society is class and that only the proletariat, through the seizure of power and the destruction of capitalism in all countries, can eliminate exploitation. As Marxists, we oppose Podemos on principle as a bourgeois party.
While claiming to uphold Catalonia’s “right to decide,” Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias stated in a 27 December 2014 interview with El Periódico that a “unilateral declaration” of independence is not possible and that Podemos therefore proposes a “constitutional process.” This amounts to a negation of the right of Catalonian self-determination, which means the right of the people of Catalonia—not a Spanish constitutional process—to decide whether or not to secede.
Podemos’ popularity has predictably attracted a gaggle of opportunist pseudo-Marxists to its orbit. Shameless lawyers for Podemos, the En Lucha (In Struggle) group affiliated with the British Socialist Workers Party declared: “Pablo Iglesias is not a Lenin, but it is better for everyone to fight against capitalism in a framework in which Podemos is strong.” While tailing Podemos, which opposes “unilateral” independence for Catalonia, En Lucha in Catalonia works with the Candidatura d’Unitat Popular (CUP—Candidacy for Popular Unity), whose goal is an independent Catalan government headed by the two main bourgeois parties there.
The Language Question
The question of language policy has been a major flashpoint for Castilian chauvinist reaction in Spain. The minority languages were officially repressed by the state under Franco. The 1978 constitution imposed Castilian (Spanish) as the official language of the state, which all have the duty to know. If you were to believe the chauvinist hysteria, Spanish is supposedly under threat and Spanish speakers are victims of terrible discrimination in Catalonia. That this is a complete fiction is confirmed by the fact that 99 percent of the population over the age of 15 in Catalonia can speak Spanish (with a literacy level of 95 percent). In Catalonia, most people also have facility in Catalan. Some 80 percent can speak Catalan, and Catalan literacy is at 60 percent.
The Madrid government’s sponsorship of a 2012 education reform bill that aims to recentralize education powers, foster religion and “Hispanicize” Catalan pupils prompted mass protests. The Catalan regional High Court ruled in 2014 that 25 percent of a school’s curriculum must be taught in Castilian Spanish if a single pupil requests it. This amounts to a naked attempt to impose Spanish-language instruction in schools in Catalonia. Similar policies are being pursued in the Balearic Islands.
The autonomous region’s language “normalization” law of 1983 gave Catalan privileged status in education, state administration and the media. In the mid 1990s, Catalonia began to provide primary and secondary school instruction exclusively in Catalan, with a few hours of Spanish language and literature a week. The 2006 statute of autonomy stipulated “the right and obligation to have a sufficient oral and written knowledge of Catalan and Castilian upon completing compulsory education.” The same statute asserted that it was a “duty” for people living in Catalonia to know both official languages, Catalan and Castilian.
A major concern of the Catalan Generalitat was to ensure that second-generation immigrants learn Catalan. There were two large waves of immigration to Catalonia in the postwar period—the first in the 1950s and ’60s from other areas of Spain and another several decades later from Latin America, East Europe and North Africa.
As Marxists, we warn against those who seek to divide the working class on the pretext of defending a particular “national culture,” which as in Catalonia inevitably discriminates against other nationalities. Thus, today an essential condition for getting a job in the public sector in Catalonia is knowledge of Catalan. We are against the imposition of any official languages. We demand equal language rights for all! We are for a public, secular, ethnically integrated school system with full provisions for instruction in Spanish, Catalan and other languages as needed by the local population. These rights apply to speakers of Arabic and Romanian as much as to those whose native language is Catalan or Castilian.
Forge a Leninist Party!
Lenin stressed that “the national programme of working-class democracy is: absolutely no privileges for any one nation or any one language; the solution of the problem of the political self-determination of nations, that is, their separation as states by completely free, democratic methods” (Critical Remarks on the National Question ). Through adherence to such a program, the Bolsheviks were able to rally the working people—Russians, Jews, Armenians, Azerbaijanis, Ukrainians, etc.—to overthrow the rule of the capitalists and landlords in October 1917.
The national question is today posed with burning intensity in Spain. Championing the independence of Catalonia and the Basque country provides an acid test of the ability of any workers organization in Spain to oppose its own bourgeoisie. Those parties that have betrayed the proletariat in the past, such as PSOE and PCE/IU, not surprisingly are now lined up behind the Spanish capitalists in seeking to maintain the “unity” of the Spanish bourgeois state, which many times over has had the blood of the workers and oppressed nationalities on its hands.
The terrible economic crisis ravaging workers and the poor in Spain and elsewhere cries out for workers revolution and the establishment of a soviet federation of workers republics in the Iberian peninsula, part of a Socialist United States of Europe. The crucial instrumentality for this is a Leninist-Trotskyist party, which must be built as part of the fight to reforge the Fourth International. Such a party will incorporate dearly purchased lessons from Spain’s own history, particularly those laid out by Trotsky and his comrades in the 1930s on the need for proletarian independence from all bourgeois forces.