views updated May 29 2018



Catalonia in the twentieth century remained one of the most economically dynamic Spanish regions and the site of a powerful nationalist movement. The economic foundations of Catalan industrialization had been laid in the previous century. Catalonia's endogenous development had been led by the production and trade of consumer goods such as textiles. This development from within facilitated a smooth transition to modernity and the emergence of a large local bourgeoisie.

However, industrial growth and the international competitiveness of Catalan industry were hampered by lack of cheap sources of energy, by the weakness of a largely underdeveloped Spanish market, and by state economic policy dominated by the interests of the Spanish land aristocracy. The Catalan bourgeoisie was weak because it had no access to the ruling political elite and because of its inability to meet the growing economic and social demands of an emerging working class. In 1901, economically shaken by Spain's loss of its imperial possessions in Cuba and the Philippines, and tired of failed attempts to influence state policy through the dominant Spanish political parties, the Catalan bourgeoisie turned to nationalism. This turn took the form of a political coalition, the Lliga Regionalista (Regionalist League), forged with conservative segments of the intelligentsia, who for decades had mobilized against political centralization and for the defense of the Catalan language.


In the period before the Spanish civil war (1936–1939), Catalonia increased its weight in the Spanish economy. Economic prosperity and the concomitant accumulation of wealth propitiated a blossoming of the arts, as rich members of the bourgeoisie sponsored major urban development plans and ambitious architectonic projects. Modernismo in particular—as expressed in the unfinished Sagrada Familia cathedral by Antonio Gaudi y Cornet (1852–1926)—stands as the main artistic legacy of this period. The foundations of Catalonia's economic growth remained trade and textile production, but the region also became a national leader in electricity production. In 1922, for instance, average capital assets in the water, gas, and electricity sector were almost five times greater than those in the textile sector. The opportunities offered by rapid economic growth attracted thousands of immigrants from poorer Spanish regions, at rates only matched in the 1950s and 1960s.

Economic development in Catalonia during the first third of the twentieth century was matched by increasing levels of social conflict. Catalan industrial workers were heavily influenced by anarchism, under the leadership of the National Confederation of Labor (Confederación Nacional de Trabajadores, or CNT), and by republicanism. In the aftermath of World War I, the rising cost of living caused by shortages of basic foodstuffs exacerbated social unrest. The CNT reached a peak number of affiliates and sponsored several general strikes that triggered a violent response from the state and from employers themselves. Terror reigned in Barcelona as both employers and CNT members were assassinated by hired gunmen. The final outcome of this escalation of violence was the military coup of Miguel Primo de Rivera y Orbaneja (1870–1930) in 1923.

Electoral politics in Catalonia before Primo de Rivera's dictatorship (1923–1930) were dominated by the rivalry between the dominant Lliga Regionalista and the Unión Republicana (Republican Union, later renamed as Partido Radical) led by Alejandro Lerroux García (1864–1949). The Lliga Regionalista was a conservative party whose supporters came from the industrial and commercial bourgeoisie. Its main political goals were to end political corruption and to establish a more decentralized state structure. Its main political achievement was the creation of the Mancomunitat Catalana (1914), a supraprovincial organization with the power to coordinate the administration of the four provinces of the Catalan region. Unión Republicana was the main opposition party to the Lliga Regionalista. The organizational and logistic talents of Lerroux, who perfectly integrated a revolutionary discourse, anticlericalism, and anti-Catalanism made this party extremely popular among both the Catalan and the immigrant working classes.

Eager to capitalize on the enrichment opportunities created by World War I and deeply concerned with restoring social order, the Lliga Regionalista dilapidated its well-earned political capital by agreeing to participate in statewide coalition governments and then by tolerating Primo de Rivera's dictatorial regime. Months before Primo de Rivera's coup, the Lliga lost an election, and thus its hegemony over Catalan politics, to a more progressive nationalist group, Acció Catalana (Catalonian Action). The long-term meaning of this defeat, however, was only felt in 1931, when Spain's Second Republic was proclaimed.

Although the Lliga retained some of its protagonism in the years that preceded the Spanish civil war, hegemony in the nationalist camp now belonged to the progressive party Esquerra Republicana (Republican Left of Catalonia). This political party, heir to a long tradition of Catalanist republican parties, owed its rise to prominence to the Lliga's political mistakes and to the conservative shift of Lerroux' s Partido Radical. These two developments afforded Esquerra Republicana the decisive electoral support of the anarchist CNT and of the rural laborers' organization, Unióde Rabaissaires. Esquerra Republicana's main achievement was the Statute of Autonomy for Catalonia, obtained in 1932.

A detailing of the convoluted political dynamics that characterized Catalonia during the years preceding the Spanish civil war is beyond the scope of this short synopsis. Suffice it to say, however, that Esquerra Republicana's hold on power was short-lived, as it was unable to tame its anarchist electoral base and resist the pressure of socialist- and then communist-leaning political organizations. As the Spanish republican government retreated from Madrid to Valencia (November 1936) and then to Barcelona (November 1937), the power of Catalonia's autonomous institutions diminished and the central state asserted itself. In the end, when Francoist troops gained control over most of Spain, Barcelona found itself in the paradoxical situation of being the last capital of the Spanish Republic.


The Spanish civil war had tragic consequences in Catalonia because of the combination of peripheral nationalism, revolutionary class mobilization, and radical anticlericalism, the three main sources of conflict leading to the war. Economically speaking, however, Catalonia emerged relatively unscathed from the civil war. In the following decades, its economic and demographic evolution mirrored that of the rest of Spain. There was stagnation in the 1940s, recovery in the 1950s, and rapid growth in the 1960s.

Nonetheless, both its economic and demographic growth rates were faster than those of other Spanish regions. Catalonia, together with the Basque Country and Madrid, were at the forefront of Spanish development. Development also meant change in Catalonia's economic and demographic structures. Economically, Catalonia became slightly less dependent than before on the evolution of its textile industry because of the growth of the service sector. Meanwhile, the population grew in heterogeneity as a new wave of immigration from Spain's poorer regions arrived in Catalonia. Migration rates to Catalonia, at 158 per thousand in the 1960s, well surpassed the highest levels reached in the pre–civil war years. In the early twenty-first century Catalonia, one of the wealthiest regions in the European Union (EU), was a modern postindustrial society struggling to compete in a global world and confronting the challenge posed by yet a new immigration wave, this time from less developed countries in Latin America and northern Africa. For some nationalists, this immigration wave represented a threat to the survival of Catalan language and culture.

Despite the changes listed above, Catalonia's economic structure under Francisco Franco (1892–1975) retained features that had conditioned political developments in prewar times. Foremost of all, Catalonia remained heavily dependent on the Spanish market, while its economic elites were largely excluded from the Francoist power circle. Not surprisingly, this context was conducive to the engagement of segments of the Catalan bourgeoisie in anti-Franco political activities. Catalan mobilization against the dictatorship proceeded almost without interruption since shortly after the end of the civil war.

What began as a mostly exogenous affair, as leading political exiles sought support from the Allies to topple Franco's government, turned gradually into insidious inner resistance in factories, at the university, and on the occasion of major festivities. This resistance encompassed all social segments of Catalan society, from workers to members of the bourgeoisie, from secular to Catholic organizations. Early on, from 1947 to 1956, the leading opposition movements were the communist Partit Socialista Unificat de Catalunya (Unified Socialist Party of Catalonia, or PSUC) and the ideologically heterogeneous Catalanist Catholic organizations. In the late 1950s and the 1960s, however, Catalan opposition to Francoism broadened and intensified, as democratic political organizations took advantage of greater opportunities for mobilization. The Nova Canço, a folk musical movement that vindicated singing in the Catalan language, was the cultural face of this opposition movement.

The social and political heterogeneity of the Catalan opposition to Franco, which contrasted with ETA's monopoly over resistance to Franco in the Basque Country, had long-term implications for the character of Catalan nationalist culture, for it prevented the rise to hegemony of a violent and anticapitalist form of nationalism in Catalonia. Nothing exemplifies better the moderate character of Catalan nationalism in the last stages of Franco's dictatorship than the main demands proclaimed in 1971 by the Catalan Assembly, a movement that virtually represented every sector in Catalan society. These demands were: (1) amnesty for political prisoners and exiles; (2) democratic freedoms; and (3) the reestablishment of the institutions and rights promulgated in the 1932 Statute of Autonomy. One of these rights was the right to speak the Catalan language.


After Franco's death in November 1975, much of the earlier political consensus in Catalonia broke down. Despite political disagreements, however, based primarily on different ideological conceptions of Catalonia's role in Spain, and of the way Spanish society ought to be organized, consensus generally prevailed on the issue of a statute of autonomy for Catalonia. In the late 1970s the Catalan nationalist movement's two main demands were met: the 1978 Spanish Constitution established both Spanish and Catalan as co-official languages in Catalonia, and the 1979 Statute of Autonomy granted Catalonia a great deal of self-government.

Political hegemony in Catalonia since the restoration of democracy in the late 1970s has corresponded to Convergencia I Unió (Convergence and Unity, CiU), a centrist nationalist coalition with strong Christian-democratic influence. Its leader, Jordi Pujol (b. 1930), a representative member of the Catalan middle class, had been involved in mobilization against Franco since the mid-1950s. In power as president of the Catalan autonomous region from 1980 to 2003, Pujol fought for the implementation of the Catalan Statute of Autonomy and the extension of Catalonia's exclusive competences. He achieved a number of programmatic goals by skillfully playing on the occasional parliamentary weakness of Spain's ruling parties, be it the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (Partido Socialista Obrero Español, or PSOE) or the Partido Popular (Popular Party). Convergencia I Unió's main rival in Catalonia was the PSOE, represented by its Catalan branch, the Partit Socialista Catalá (PSC), whom it easily defeated in regional elections but which threatened its hegemony in statewide ones. In 2003, however, the PSC, led by Pasqual Maragall (another leading member of the movement of opposition to Franco), succeeded in winning the regional elections. Lacking a large majority, however, the PSC was bound to form a coalition government with either CiU or with the two leading left-oriented political parties, Esquerra Republicana and Iniciativa per Catalunya (Initiative for Catalonia, or IC). Maragall chose the latter.

The most relevant political transformation in Catalonia has been the reemergence of Esquerra Republicana as a major political player, and with it, of a progressive nationalist tradition with aspirations to regional self-determination. Esquerra Republicana was not active in opposing the Franco regime. Led by Josep Tarradellas, Esquerra's president in exile since 1954, it led a low-profile existence. Back in Spain after Franco's death, under the auspices of Spain's first elected prime minister, Adolfo Suárez González, Tarradellas played a key role in negotiating Catalonia's Statute of Autonomy. After this short period of political prominence, Esquerra Republicana returned to relative obscurity as Pujol's CiU cashed in on its leaders' more active engagement in the movement of opposition to Franco.

In the 1990s a rejuvenated Esquerra benefited from part of the nationalist electorate's frustration with CiU's perceived connivance with the Spanish state and from part of the Left's disenchantment with Spain's ruling Socialist Party. With a program that caters to a broad range of social segments, from supporters of self-determination to supporters of the antiglobalization movement, Esquerra Republicana gradually gained in public visibility. This greater public visibility eventually generated sufficient electoral support in the 2003 regional election to turn Esquerra Republicana into a key junior coalition partner of the PSC. Only a year into the regional legislature, Esquerra's presence in Catalonia's government had already led to a radicalization of nationalist demands, a turning point in Catalonia's recent history. On 30 March 2006, the Spanish Congress approved a reformed, more ambitious statute of automony for Catalonia.

See alsoFranco, Francisco; Spain; Spanish Civil War.


Barbagallo, Francisco, et al. Franquisme: Sobre resistencia i consens a Catalunya (1938–1959). Barcelona, 1990.

Benet, Josep. Catalunya sota el regim franquista. Barcelona, 1978.

Colomer, Josep M. Espanyolisme i catalanisme: La idea de nació en el pensament pollític català (1939–1979). Barcelona, 1984.

Culla i Clarà, Joan. El republicanisme Lerrouxista a Catalunya (1901–1923). Barcelona, 1986.

Díez Medrano, Juan. Divided Nations: Class, Politics, and Nationalism in the Basque Country and Catalonia. Ithaca, N.Y., 1995.

González Portilla, Manuel, Jordi Maluquer de Motes, and Borja de Riquer Permanyer, eds. Industrialización y nacionalismo: Análisis comparativos: Actas del I Coloquio Vasco-Catalán de Historia, celebrado en Sitges, 20–22 de diciembre de 1982. Bellaterra, Spain, 1985.

Guibernau, Montserrat. Catalan Nationalism: Francoism, Transition, and Democracy. New York, 2004.

Ivern i Salvà, Maria Dolors. Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya: 1931–1936. Barcelona, 1988–1989.

Johnston, Hank. Tales of Nationalism: Catalonia, 1939–1979. New Brunswick, N.J., 1991.

Lladonosa I Vall-Llebrera, Manuel. Catalanisme i moviment obrer: El CADCI entre 1903 i 1923. Barcelona, 1988.

Miguélez Lobo, F., and Carlota Solé. Classes socials i poder polític en Catalunya. Barcelona, 1987.

Nadal, J., and Albert Carreras, eds. Pautas regionales de la industrialización española (siglos XIX y XX). Barcelona, 1990.

Pinilla de las Heras, E. Estudios sobre cambio social y estructuras sociales en Cataluña. Madrid, 1979.

Juan DÍez Medrano


views updated May 29 2018


CATALONIA. Catalonia is a land of mountains and seashores in the northeastern corner of Spain. The northern Pyrenees and the western Sierra de Cadi create the mountainous profile visible from the eastern stretch of the Mediterranean coast. The foothills of these mountains extend throughout the region, flattening only at the coastline. Rivers cut through the valleys, making their way to the Mediterranean and connecting the mercantile and industrial cities of the coast with the agricultural interior. To the south, only the flat, marshy delta of the Ebro River resists the Sierran uplift.

A province of approximately 300,000 people by the end of the fifteenth century, Catalonia was the political and economic force of the Crown of Aragón, wielding this power through its capital city, Barcelona. Catalonia was governed by the Corts, the parliament representing the province in dealings with the king, and by the Diputació del General, the treasury and tax-collecting agency of the Corts. The union of Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragón in 1469 brought the two crowns under one monarchy. Despite this union, Catalonia continued to govern itself, reflecting Ferdinand's vision of a united Spain ruling over coexisting autonomous regions.

Catalonia did not share in Castile's "Golden Age" in the sixteenth century, which was fueled in large part by exploitation of Castile's American territories. Although Ferdinand repeatedly affirmed the Crown of Aragón's right to participate in transatlantic trade, several factors inhibited this. Seville was the official port for Spain's American empire and the most convenient port for the trade, which disadvantaged Mediterranean merchants. Moreover, Catalonia suffered from a lack of capital following a civil war (14621472) in addition to a contraction in population caused by repeated waves of plague from the fourteenth century onward. The population of mid-sixteenth century Catalonia (331,000) never reached one-twentieth that of Castile (6,300,000).

During the reign of Philip IV, as Spain faced economic depression and extraordinary expenses in the Thirty Years' War, the crown looked to Catalonia and other parts of its monarchy for increased tax revenues. The Catalans feared the loss of their traditional liberties and resisted the efforts of Philip IV's chief minister, the count-duke of Olivares, to raise their contributions to the Habsburgs' war efforts. Intransigence on both sides led to the Catalan rebellion of 16401652, which ended with a royal victory and a wise decision by the crown not to punish the rebels too harshly. Catalonia remained loyal to the Habsburgs when a Bourbon prince inherited the throne of Spain. When the Bourbons retained the throne after the hard-fought War of the Spanish Succession (17011714), they determined to bring Catalonia under closer central control. Nonetheless, Bourbon economic policies channeled resources into Catalan industry and commerce in the eighteenth century. Thanks to a boom in industries such as cotton manufacturing, and the opening of the American trade to all Spanish ports after 1765, Catalonia was arguably the most dynamic part of Spain at the end of the eighteenth century, with a population approaching one million. Efforts of French revolutionaries to incite another revolt in Catalonia against the Bourbon monarchy were not effective, and Catalonia shared the fate of the rest of Spain during the Napoleonic invasion and the subsequent war of independence against the French.

See also Barcelona ; Catalonia, Revolt of (16401652) ; Charles III (Spain) ; Ferdinand of Aragón ; Isabella of Castile ; Spanish Succession, War of the (17011714) ; Thirty Years' War (16181648) .


Read, Jan. The Catalans. London, 1978.

Vicens Vives, Jaime. An Economic History of Spain. Princeton, 1969.

Vilar, Pierre. La catalogne dans l'Espagne moderne. Paris, 1986.

Shelley E. Roff


views updated May 23 2018

Catalonia (Sp. Cataluña) Region in ne Spain, extending from the French border to the Mediterranean Sea. The capital is Barcelona. Catalonia includes the provinces of Barcelona, Gerona, Lérida and Tarragona. United with Aragón in 1137, it retained its own laws and language. During the Spanish Civil War it was a Loyalist stronghold, and recently it has been a focus of separatist movements. The Costa Brava is an important tourist area. Products: grain, fruit, olive oil, wool, wine. Area: 31,932sq km (12,329sq mi). Pop. (1998) 6,147,610.