Thoughts on Catalonia

Of the many developments in world politics that I entirely failed to comment on this year, the Catalan Independence crisis is perhaps one of the more notable. I did think of writing something when it was all kicking off around the referendum a couple of months ago, but never got around to it, partly due to indolence, but mostly because I felt there was little new to say – the whole situation has played out in a way that would have been familiar to Marx back in the nineteenth century, and any commentary from me would have been nothing but a series of quotes from The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon.

I think that this analysis has been largely borne out by subsequent events, as the bourgeois nationalists, after their first flush of reckless adventurism stalled, failed to harness the one force that had the potential to carry the project to success, the enthusiasm of the Catalan (and Spanish) working class for progressive social change. Fearful that the wave of proletarian expectation that they initially encouraged might end up sweeping them away too, the Catalan bourgeoisie have hastened to compromise with their counterparts in Madrid (and Brussels), a process that has led to today’s regional elections.

Of course once started these movements take on a momentum of their own, and as I write the early returns seem to indicate that the election will be inconclusive, and the crisis will enter a new phase. What happens next will depend in no small part on the leadership provided by left elements of the independence movement, and the solidarity shown by the left in the rest of Spain, and in Europe generally.

It would be hard to make any predictions about all of this in the best of circumstances, but it’s doubly difficult looking at it from the UK, though the distorting lens of our own current anxieties over Brexit. The Catalan crisis raises many important questions about the pro-capitalist nature of the EU, and support for the progressive cause in Catalonia would seem to fit into a wider anti-EU narrative, with echoes of previous events in Greece. However around here Euro-scepticism is a predominantly right-wing phenomenon, which makes it tricky to formulate a left perspective which can encompass criticism of the role of the EU in southern Europe without giving any ground to the toxic xenophobia of resurgent jingoism.

Our comrades in Catalonia, from what I’ve read, do seem to have a pretty good grasp of what needs to be done, so I’m as hopeful as one can ever be that things might work out well there. I’m somewhat less optimistic that the horror show that is British politics can be steered towards a happy ending, but that’s a topic for another post.

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