There’s a common illusion coming from the Spanish social democratic left about how autonomist and regionalist political positions are more democratic and that the future federal republic must revive old practices from the Second Republic (1931-1936), so the peripheral nationalist parties appear to be on the democratic side against a centralist and unitarian right-wing tradition. There’s also a commitment to prioritise alliances with Basque and Catalan nationalists, regardless of whether chauvinism and racist nationalism persist in some circles. This is the beginning of the wrong analysis from the Spanish left.
When nationalist parliamentary groups present motions and petitions to the government, the social democratic non-PSOE left joins desperately in order to share some piece of the cake. It happens all the time when Catalan and Basque nationalists register a motion to investigate the Crown’s corruption scandals or to “beg” for the immediate release of political prisoners. Everyone wants to be part of those democratic desires, holding the Spanish State to account and combining the reformist illusions of a federal republic about to be conquered with the Popular Front strategic rhetoric of 1936, all the left united to confront the enemy of Spanish right-wing extremist nationalism.
This mode of thinking is so wrong it is difficult to know where to begin. Firstly, the idea that nationalist and social democratic parties can reformulate the mistakes of the Second Republic by doing exactly the same is just absurd, as any future Spanish Republic will need to overcome the current autonomist territorial system. There’s a low probability that the establishment will let this happen without a fight, the repressive nature of the state won’t fade away by itself in the face of a coalition of reformist organisations. Secondly, we need to understand that the Basque nationalists of the past, united behind the Basque Nationalist Party, no matter whether their ideas were oriented to the right or left; and the Catalan republican left that would rather die fighting for freedom than selling their nationalism to navigate on the Spanish nationalist “left” ship, have now been replaced by renewed faces, structures, ways of making politics and analyses of the current situation. I sometimes wonder: does anybody think if there was a civil conflict in the Spanish State today, the Basque Nationalist Party would create a Basque Militia to fight alongside communists, anarchists and republicans? And the same question comes to mind for the Catalan nationalists.
The answer is simple, and it’s not an affirmative one, because that ‘democratic will’ social democrats appeal to when forming the great alliance with the bourgeois nationalist parties to promote legislation is purely a strategic plan. The Basque Nationalist Party rules the Basque Country with neoliberal policies that drive people to poverty and starvation, it sends the police to beat protesters on the streets, it negotiates with the central administration to keep the privileges of the Basque businessmen. Then, its representatives in Madrid argue that the political class of Spain is corrupt and bad-intentioned towards the people of the Basque Country, so the left parties clap and later vote “yes”: “yes” to revolutionary speeches at the hemicycle and “yes” to repression and austerity at home, and happiness all-around.
The Republican Left of Catalonia is responsible for sending the Mossos d’Esquadra (Catalan police) to assault and repress protesters for self-determination, freedom of expression, feminism, or any kind of demand that requires the rough task of overthrowing the capitalist system. If you want an advancement in social policies, you’re inevitably a danger, so don’t demonstrate – stay at home watching TV and complaining about why your nation isn’t independent yet. At least that’s what the Generalitat executive promotes, whilst in Madrid the police brutality and tortures are unacceptable! Again, the social democrats clap, the right says something about terrorism and the show is over.
The real problem for the left is to think that bourgeois nationalists are campaigning for a real democratic republic in their respective nations and that motive is enough to celebrate together the rebirth of republicanism in Spain. But the reality is actually darker than it seems, because those Catalan and Basque republics they want to build are carbon copies of the capitalist regime that rules the Spanish State. The party systems they’re building confirm this. The future Basque Republic is going to have a right-wing leg (the Basque Nationalist Party) and a left-wing one (EH Bildu); both competing for political and economic power. The future Catalan Republic is most likely to produce a right-wing front (based on the current Junts per Catalunya party) and a left-wing one (the Republican Left of Catalonia party). Do you see the resemblance? Changing a two-party system that rests on a post-Francoist structural framework for a two-party system that combines both right-wing nationalism with anti-Spanish resentment. Ah, the good old Irish republicans would be laughing if we told them what the left is helping to build for the sake of having a Spanish Republic!
Is there an alternative? There always is! But you won’t find it on the pamphlets of the Third Spanish Republic dreamers, who would prefer to adapt to bourgeois peripheric nationalists than to prepare a popular response to institutional Francoism and capitalism. You won’t find it either within the social democratic electoralist fronts, only worried about how to broaden their voting aspirations with decorated messages of hope and anti-establishment words meaning nothing in practice. It’s not hidden into the bourgeois nationalist parties (right or left). The answer is always the ability to understand that sovereignty belongs to the peoples and freedom won’t come out of independence without any arrangement. Independence is something we need (all the Spanish State nations!), but it’s definitely not the end, but the start of a new society under our workers and our people.
Reject bourgeois nationalism, fight for independence and socialism!