The Financial Sector Assault on Catalan Independence
by Matthew Jacobson PhD
When the National police and Guardia Civil on Sunday, October 1st rushed into crowds of Catalan’s attempting to defend their right to vote in an independence referendum, the Catalan’s that showed up stood strong, non-violent and proud in spite of being beaten and thrown to the pavement. The violence of the State of Spain has only created a stronger and more determined base of support for independence here in Catalunya and has drawn international sympathies. If the Catalan government declares independence in the following days as they have announced they will likely again face the violence and potential take over of the elected government of Catalunya by the State of Spain. The effect will be the same, more anger and hatred towards the State lending support to the independence movement. Yet the movement for independence faces an even more difficult and potentially lethal threat to its survival now as financial corporate institutions have begun their threats to make changes that will cause economic downturns. These threats can potentially have a more negative impact on the independence movement than the threat of more bloody heads or bruised bodies from police clubs. The critical question is whether the independence movement can respond to these threats with a proposal for economic and social sustainability.
The attempt of Catalunya to gain control over its economy by becoming independent from the Spanish state has broad support based on a wide coalition of interests. Certainly one of the central arguments that you here on the streets of Barcelona is that Catalunya is one of the richest economies in Spain and it pays a large amount of taxes to the State of Spain while gaining less than its deserves. In these terms independence is an economic project to save and keep money in the Catalun economy. There is likely a certain degree of support in the business community toward independence for this reason. The middle and working class might also identify with the idea of saving money on taxes. Yet if independence for Catalunya ends up only benefiting an elite Catalan class of corporate business owners then it will lose support, as it cannot face the pressures of the multinational corporate sector without popular support. The national and multinational banks that stand to lose from independence only have to move and shift their financial resources from the Catalan economy to create an economic downturn that could potentially outweigh any tax savings for the Catalan economy. It is easy to sense how these economic threats can generate enough fear in the general population to turn the tide on the independence movement. The debates are totally focused then on balance sheets and the realities and bluffs from financial institutions about which is really better economically for Catalan’s.
What is critically needed for a sustainable independence movement that can face its challenges is a clear economic and social proposal that will benefit all the people of Catalunya and build popular support. This means a concrete outline of a new economic system that is regionally based and based on a cooperative and collective network of Catalan based industry and service. Rather than just lip service, Catalunya would need to be dedicate itself to becoming, a truly democratic and participatory economic system if it is to attempt to convince the people of the region they can not only survive, but thrive economically and socially. Without this inspiration that centers on the collective power of the independence movement, it will have a hard time convincing its people that Catalan economy can survive the pressures of the potential pullout of financial institutions and resources. It has to create new alliances and economic networks that actually produce a more equal, secure and solid economic and social base for its residents. It would have to be a proposal that benefited the working class of Catalunya to gain support and inspire the investment of the people of the region. Certainly there is a wealthy sector of Catalunya that would be threatened by any shifts in which the wealth of the region would have to be shared more equitably. They would potentially reject a collective economic proposal for the region. Yet the main criticism of the State of Spain holds true within the Catalan economy, that certain private sector interests make enormous profits at the expense of the Catalan people in general. The multinational and national corporations in Catalunya largely benefit the one percent, not the people themselves. The independence movement can propose as Chomsky has said, that all private and public institutions have to justify themselves to the Common Good. If Catalunya wants to make good on its claims that independence is good for all Catalans and is based on democracy and social equality, then it must have an economic project in which the peoples needs are above the corporations, that the private business sector should serve the people of Catalunya, not vice versa.
If the independence movement is about a Catalunya for all that live in its region it has the potential to meet the challenges of the threats of the multinational financial sector and its main supporter, the State of Spain. If not, it is likely to lose strength and support when faced with economic pressures from large banks and the financial sector. Independence movements that have survived and thrived in the modern world have only done so by having a clear proposal for an alternative to corporate dominated economics, an alternative that is based on the Common Good, not the interests of a few. Under increasing pressure the question needs to be addressed: independence for whom and for what?