Spain is going through a turbulent period. The global capitalist crisis that almost crippled its economy is not over.
Yet more pressure is being exerted by an atypical coalition of the Catalanist centre-right, Left Republicans and Marxist anti-capitalists who are all seeking a separate, independent state.
The masses of Catalonia are on the 1st of October voting in a referendum that could pave the way for a process leading towards national autonomy. This is a very divisive project that is sending shock waves not only in Madrid but also all over Europe.
Any project for national autonomy is highly emotional. Diverse countries such as Ireland, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Turkey and many others with regions seeking autonomy worry about national unity and territorial fragmentation. Europe is therefore closely following the signals from Catalonia.
A YES vote may just encourage many other nations to move along a similar trajectory.
At the core of the problem in Spain is a State superimposed on a multiplicity of several nations: the Basque Land, Catalonia, Galicia, and Castille itself.
A careful balance between force and negotiations kept a semblance of unity for hundreds of years. More recently, after the fall of the dictatorship in 1977, the same formula provided a known and reliable overarching strategy for continuation.
It was a project of the conservative forces – including the Popular Party (of a liberal and conservative orientation), the Socialist Party (of liberal, social democratic character) as well as the Catholic Church. These formed a complex grouping representing bourgeois interests.
As in the past, Madrid was the centre of an absolute and highly corrupt political power base. But the internal consistence of the political system held on, at least up to 2008.
For sure, Catalonia and the Basque Land have been fighting for autonomy for sometime now. The two nations are the wealthiest and among the most industrialized in Spain. They have distinct languages, history and culture. Separatist movements have always thrived in these nations.
The question is then what is behind this strong resurgence of the separatist movement?
The answer is to be found in the crisis of globalised capitalism and the failure of the neo-liberal capitalist paradigm to provide answers for the Spanish working masses.
The 2008 crisis was highly devastating. People lost jobs, property and the hope of a secure future within the capitalist system.
The austerity measures imposed through the standard neo-liberal austerity prescriptions stripped off the remnants of a welfare state and literary sacrificed the livelihoods of the working masses to allow capital to regenerate itself and continue maximising profits.
The high levels of corruption of the ruling elite did not help matters. It contributed to the radicalisation of anti-capitalist nationalist forces.
The 15M movements for example demanded that all politicians to go away. It wanted alternative political structures and processes that were free of corruption.
It was anti-corruption and anti-establishment protest movement. The aspirations of this movement resonated with the grassroots. The movement was therefore able to win and consolidate political power in several municipalities as well as push for a more radical agenda.
However, the big-power politics remained out of reach of these popular movements. Spaniards have woken up to a hard reality that their membership in the European Union had disempowered them in fighting for the economic and social rights of the masses at state level.
Over the past three decades, the real power had shifted to Brussels – away from Madrid. For nations like Catalonia and Basque Land that already felt disempowered, the anti-EU sentiments can be quite high.
For the Marxist and other leftist forces supporting the separatist camp in Catalonia, there is no hope of a better future seen in German-led, neo-liberal Europe. It would always mean confinement to a periphery existence that they have fought against for over a century.
Separation from Madrid and Brussels is a hard option, but it offers a single option for an anti-capitalist transformation of Catalonia.
In a panicky attempt to stop Catalonia from breaking away, the Spanish establishment is acting irrationally and with impunity.
Leading personalities of the separatist movement are being arrested, posters for the YES campaign are being confiscated and printing houses are under police siege. It is a clamp down on an ever-growing separatist movement.
This, in turn, is sending thousands more angry people on the street demanding justice and the freedom to hold the referendum.
The aggression of the Spanish neo-liberal bourgeois state may just be that extra oppressive act that the separatist movement needs to mobilise sufficient numbers of Catalans towards self-determination.