The following report is the fruit of a three-week visit to the Spanish state in February 1976. In many hours of discussion, with economists and politicians, businessmen and trade-union officials, workers and Left militants, a single, apparently simple theme oriented my enquiry. What was the concrete possibility of a ‘democratic rupture’ (the now standard Spanish term) with the régime established by Franco’s legions forty years ago? In other words, what was the possibility of a middle way between, on the one hand, the maintenance of a modified version of the authoritarian State and, on the other, the latter’s violent overthrow: a middle way that would, at least in the short term, establish an authentic bourgeois democracy. It seemed clear that a democratic rupture of this kind would be considerably facilitated by—if not actually require—the splitting off of a fraction of the bourgeoisie from the dominant bloc, in which finance capital at present exercises hegemony. Were there any indications to suggest where such a line of fissure might lie? The following lines reflect the random course of the enquiry, which of necessity was forced beyond its original limits. The central theme becomes submerged under a number of other questions, only to re-emerge at the end.footnote1

Barcelona is fifty minutes by walk-on flight from Madrid; the distance between the two cities feels like that of a twelve-hour train trip. This is another country. Where, if not here, was there more likelihood of finding a positive answer to the question? A bourgeoisie historically in advance of its counterpart in the rest of the Spanish state, a post-Franco situation ‘complicated’ by Catalanism.

Economically, Catalonia is the Lombardy of Spain. With 15 per cent of the Spanish state’s population, it produces 20 per cent of its wealth (27 per cent of manufacturing wealth); its per capita income is 37 per cent higher than the Spanish average. Engineering has overtaken textiles as the main manufacturing industry, with chemicals in third place. Just under one third of all large manufacturing companies are based in Catalonia. Sociological statistics reveal European rather than Spanish levels. 41 per cent of the population, as compared to only 35 per cent in Spain as a whole, works; 21 per cent of women as compared to 13 per cent. Over 80 per cent of the Catalan working population is wage-earning, half of this in manufacturing industry. Having for decades imported Spanish labour, Catalan capitalism now also imports unskilled Moroccan labour.

Despite its historically advanced industrial base, Catalan industry has not been able to increase its relative lead over the rest of Spain—indeed, has had difficulty maintaining its position. Its industrial origins still mark it: the proliferation of family-owned enterprises, the corresponding lack of joint-stock companies, the related lack of finance capital. Family-owned does not necessarily mean small: all Catalan steel companies are family enterprises. The chemical and food industries are exceptions. Not surprisingly, both show high concentrations of foreign—essentially European—capital. Whereas in Madrid us capital dominates—the list of multinationals reads like a Wall Street index: Standard ITT, Chrysler, Kelvinator, John Deere—in Catalonia European capital dominates: Nestlé, Pirelli, basf, Fiat (seat), Olivetti. Nearly 30 per cent of all the large manufacturing enterprises are foreign-owned. There is no entirely convincing explanation for this differential implantation of foreign capital, though factors include: Catalonia’s geographical closeness to the eec, European capital’s preference for buying into existing firms rather than starting from scratch, different management concepts. This is not to say that Catalan capital is more favourable to joining the eec than the majority of Spanish capital. Throughout the Spanish state, the eec is a political rather than a directly economic choice. But it does mean that a historical Europe-oriented tradition in Catalonia is reinforced.

Measured by number of employees, some 60 per cent of all Spanish industry is small (employing no more than five employees) and a further 30 per cent medium-sized (employing up to fifty employees). Given the family-ownership structure in Catalonia, this situation is more marked than in the rest of Spain. It is among the small and medium-sized entrepreneurs, as amongst the petty bourgeoisie, that one could expect to find the evidence of a ‘democratic rupture’. And so indeed one does. Given the dominance of finance capital, small and medium-sized industry throughout Spain has difficulty securing finance. The large banks funnel investment into their own industrial companies; the Industrial Credit Bank last year channelled only 6 per cent of its funds to small companies. Given the absence of fully developed Catalan finance capital, and the current economic crisis, these difficulties have increased. Opposition to monopoly capital is evident: ‘The large companies are like tanks today’, the secretary general of Banca Catalana recently told a conference of small and medium entrepreneurs. Economic opposition is heightened by Catalanist opposition to the centralist nature of this domination, exemplified by the bureaucratic Madrid administration which is particularly opaque and inaccessible to small industrialists.

The conference mentioned above (held in December 1975) was significant for revealing the inherent ambiguities in this fraction of the bourgeoisie—the fraction which should be most susceptible to an anti-monopolistic political stance, and thus to a ‘democratic rupture’. Politically unrepresented in the dominant bloc, the businessmen adopted a motion calling for adequate measures to be taken to ‘proclaim and defend the identity of medium and small enterprises as a separate social state’. After further criticism of the central government and credit difficulties, the conference broke down over labour problems. A Christian Democrat resolution calling for free collective bargaining and free dismissal of labour was rejected; the conference decided to call only for ‘conditional freedom’, leaving it to the government to regulate such matters. It also refused to come out openly in favour of free trade unions.

The ambiguity can perhaps be summed up in the words of an economist who, by the nature of his work, is in constant contact with Catalan businessmen. ‘The small and medium entrepreneur is fundamentally conservative; he can play at liberalism because he knows he has no weight.’ Nonetheless that liberalism may, at certain moments, have its own determining weight. As a Catalanist, such a small businessman may be ‘progressive’ while as a businessman he may be ‘regressive’. This ambiguity seems to underlie much in Catalonia today—as it did in the past. Though history does not repeat itself, it appears to be reproducing itself in certain areas—areas which in the past revealed some of the depths of this ambiguity. Bourgeois Catalanism was ‘progressive’ (i.e. supported bourgeois democratic institutions) in the past until its class interests were threatened. The Lliga, the party of Catalan big business, reneged its Catalanism (which in many respects was more apparent than real) four times in two decades (1909, 1917, 1923, 1930), calling on or joining in the central government to bail it out when confronted with revolution. The petty-bourgeois Esquerra, supplanting the Lliga’s hegemony due to the latter’s defection, in turn defected—though in much more dramatic conditions: the May events of 1937—when faced with proletarian revolution.footnote2