THE CONNEMARA SKULL — DARK SECRETS AND FUN

Diarmuid Breatnach

 

Martin McDonagh’s play, A Skull in Connemara, one of his Leenane Trilogy, directed by Andrew Flynn, is currently playing at the Olympia in Dublin’s Dame Street. With a cast of four the play takes us on a hilarious tour of hidden secrets and gossip in a rural community but with a dark side hinted at and growing towards the end. Despite the buildup, there is more than one surprise – and shock even – in store.

 

What one might call the central character is Mick Dowd (Pat Shortt) a gravedigger with a difference: his job is to dig up old graves and to collect the remains to transfer to another location. The population is outgrowing or outbreeding the available graveyard space. He is visited by a Mary Johnny, a local elderly woman (played by Maria McDermottroe) whose grandsons appear later, the youngest being Máirtín (Jarlath Tivnan), with an unhealthy interest in the macabre and wishing to be the gravedigger’s apprentice. His brother is local Garda Tom Hanlon (Patrick Ryan), who aspires to promotion as a detective.

The dialogue is fast at times while at others, silence or sparse words are used effectively. It is hilarious but the shadow of secret is never very far from the sunshine. In terms of acting, one must complement them all but Jarlath Tivnan as Máirtín really stands out. He was, it is true, given some marvelous dialogue (though perhaps a little irritating at the beginning) and acting lines, but he makes the best of it and his physical acting is extraordinary.

I didn’t see the previous production four years ago at the Gaiety, when it got a bad review from John McKeown in the Irish Independent but I’d have to disagree with his opinion of the script.

The sets, or really one set that converts into another, combined with the lighting, are really excellent. It takes some imagination to convert a house into a graveyard and some skill to convince the audience that they have moved from one to the other but this is achieved; one can see why the designers Owen McCarthaigh and Sinead McKenna are winners of the Irish Times Theatre Award.I

McDonagh gained fame (and some controversy) with his West of Ireland trilogies, some plays more than others but he is the author of another four plays and the film script for Six Shooter, for which he won an Academy Award in 2004.

Adverse criticism of A Skull? A little. As indeed the title informs us A Skull in Connemara is set in the West of Ireland, as with the rest of McDonagh’s Leenane Trilogy and also his Aran Trilogy but, in reality, it could be anywhere in rural Ireland. Some would say this is its strength but I regret that the only concession I noted to the Irish language was that the woman carries the name of a parent attached to her own, as is the custom in the shrinking Irish-speaking districts … and that one of the characters is named Máirtín.

And, though most of the time not noticed, one does wonder what the reason for the huge cracks and the cross etched into the house walls are about, making it appear perhaps as a set for the Mexican Mission in a play about the Alamo.

Whether you agree with those criticisms or do not, you will I feel sure enjoy it. The audience last night did and many, perhaps most, gave it a standing ovation. A Skull in Connemara is set to run to September 1st.

Link:

http://www.olympia.ie/whats-on/a-skull-in-connemara/

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NEWS AS PROPAGANDA

Diarmuid Breatnach

Very recently, a large and high-status media organisation published a news report with a headline to which a minister of state objected. The Minister made it an official complaint and the media organisation changed the headline. Nothing so startling in any of that, right? Wrong.

There are many things wrong with this scenario. Firstly, should a government minister be able to change news reporting by a media organisation? Isn’t media supposed to be independent? So they tell us, anyway.

Well, the media organisation in question, the British Broadcasting Corporation, is government-funded. Yes but at the same time it proclaims its independence nevertheless.

Anyway, the government to which the complaining Minister belonged wasn’t even the British Government – it was Israel’s.

So a minister of Israel’s Government made a complaint about a British Broadcasting Corporation’s news headline, and the BBC changed the headline to accommodate him and the Israeli Government? Yes, it happened on 9th August this year.

Well, maybe the complaint was justified? If so, the BBC should respond appropriately.

Perhaps they should – IF it was justified. But it wasn’t.

Firstly, the complaint was that the headline was inaccurate – and the complaint actually said that it was a lie! In other words, not just inaccurate but deliberately so.

Israeli war jet — Israel has 252 attack fighters and 48 attack helicopters. Palestinians have none.
(Source: https://www.globalfirepower.com/country-military-strength-detail.asp?country_id=israel)

So what was the headline? It was as follows:

Israeli air strikes ‘kill woman and baby’”

Untrue, whether deliberate or not? No, it was completely true and attested to by reports of many other media, including Israel’s own. On 9th August, Inas Muhammed Khamash (9 months pregnant according to some reports) and her 18-month daughter Bayan Khamash were killed when, according to the Israeli Army, Israel bombed 140 sites in Gaza.  Not only that but the Health Ministry of Gaza confirmed the death of 20-year old Ali Al-Ghandour in the attack and the hospitalisation of another 12, two of which are in critical condition.

The Israeli Minister wanted included in the BBC headline that the Israeli bombing which did kill a mother and child, that it had been in response to rockets fired at Israel. Context is important, right?

 The message sent to the BBC on 9th August:

Emmanuel Nahshon

@EmmanuelNahshon

.@BBCWorld this is a formal complaint by @IsraelMFA .This title is a deliberate misrepresentation of reality ( that’s the polite equivalent of “ this is a LIE”, if you don’t get it). Israelis were targeted by Hamas and IDF acts to protect them.Change it IMMEDIATELY!!! @IsraelMFA

 

CONTEXT IN NEWS REPORTING

Well yes, of course context is important but one cannot always include context in a headline. Imagine putting context into a number of news headlines down through history: “Nazi invading army surrounded after failure to take Stalingrad due to courageous resistance for over five months and Red Army counterattack” instead of “Nazi Army surrounded at Stalingrad – five-month siege lifted.” Or “Banks bailed out with debts guaranteed by Government prepared to implement austerity cuts on most of the population” instead of “Banks bailout – who will pay?” The context can be provided within the story.

However, if the Israeli Minister wants context in headlines or even in stories, how about including in a report of any Palestinian demonstration or rocket attack the following information as to what gave rise to the action:

  • Zionists colonised a land in which Jews were about 10% of the population and created a State from which through terrorism they expelled thousands of non-Jewish Palestinians

  • The Zionist State extended its lands on which it plants Zionist settlers, stealing further Palestinian land and water

  • Zionist state law allow for any Jewish person in the world, with no connection whatsoever with the land, to become an Israeli citizen while banning original non-Jewish Palestinian exiles or their descendants from returning or from Israeli citizenship. And it has now legislated that Israel is a Jewish state, officially discriminating against the 20% of its non-Jewish citizens who are born and raised within the state.

  • Zionists are steadily making Jerusalem, a city holy to Christians, Muslims and Jews, a Jewish city by appropriation of buildings and areas and intimidation of Palestinian residents and worshippers of other faiths.

  • Palestinians are second-class citizens in their own land held up at Israeli checkpoints for hours

  • The Zionist state disagreed with the Palestinian election results years ago and made of Gaza what many have called “the largest concentration camp in the world”.

  • The Zionist Armed forces bombed Gaza several times with huge loss of Palestinian life including many children

  • The Zionist Armed forces bombed water treatment plants and much infrastructure in Gaza

  • The Zionist Armed forces bombed a hospital

  • The Zionist Armed forces regularly shoot unarmed demonstrators

  • The Zionist state has many children in jail and

  • holds adults for months on end without trial or even charge in “administrative detention”

  • The Zionist state attacked Palestinian places of culture and worship

Yes, there’s plenty there for context alright, if that’s what the Israeli Zionists want. And if the media corporations carried even a little of that, how would it weigh against the two fundamental, often-repeated lines of Zionist context:

  • God gave Palestine to the Jews

  • The Israelis are only defending themselves against Palestinians rocket attacks

Well, about the first one I have to say that I deny the validity of a document at most recent 300 years BCE (BC), commonly called the Old Testament (even if it were not full of the contradictions that exist within it) – and calling on an extra-terrestial being for its authority — to settle a question of ownership of land on Earth in the 20th and 21st Centuries CE (AD).

And I deny the validity of anyone, including an extra-terrestial being, to justify oppression, racism and murder. Of course, the extra-terrestial being in question has been silent for centuries and it is living men and women with human intentions that are using his alleged words and interpreting them to their advantage (and ignoring those who quote the same being to oppose them).

THE DEADLY ROCKETS

But what about the Palestinian rockets – they’re real, are they not? Yes, the rockets – let’s deal with that one now.

Given the way those rockets are commonly treated in reporting, one would imagine Israel suffering something like the London Blitz during WWII or the Allied bombing of Germany. How many Israelis have been killed by Palestinian rockets? Due to reporting methods of the Zionists and much of the Western media, it is not immediately easy to answer that question.

In an analysis of figures by Phan Nguyen of violent fatalities by Palestinian missiles for the Mondoweiss site, the total from 2000, when the Second Intifada began until 2014, were 44 Israeli fatalities, of which 14 were military and another two were civilians at an Army post. That is a rate of 3.1 Israeli fatalities per year from this fearsome weapon which requires the Israelis to slaughter tens of hundreds of Palestinians! In addition, only 23 deaths were caused by rockets, the rest being by mortars. In statistics of all homicides of the conflict for this year (2018) up to July 26 (given by a pro-Israeli site jewishvirtuallibrary.org), though 11 Israelis were injured, not a single Israeli has been killed by Palestinian rocket or mortar fire; during the same period, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Gaza, Israel killed 155 Palestinians (of whom 23 were under 18) and injured many others. And after that date they killed another thirteen.1

The most recent Israeli killed by a Palestinian, according to the IsraelPalestineTimeline database, was on July 27th this year (2018), father-of-two Yotam Ovadia and he was not killed by a Palestinian rocket. Yotam Ovadia was stabbed by a Palestinian who apparently managed to climb the security fence surrounding one of the many Israeli settlements on stolen Palestinian land, declared illegal by international law and by the United Nations.

The most recent Palestinian killed by an Israeli according to the same database was on 12th August this year, 30-year old Wisam Yousez Hijazi. He had been an unarmed demonstrator at the Great Return March and was shot by an Israeli soldier on 14th May, needed specialist treatment unavailable in Gaza and died near the Rafah Crossing into Egypt before he could get through the Egyptian blockade of Gaza.

Those two deaths typify the conflict in some ways: an Israeli participant in theft of Palestinian land (even according to the UN) and a Palestinian demonstrating against the theft of their land and denial of right of return to Palestinians. A Palestinian killed by an Israeli soldier using a modern firearm and an Israeli killed by a Palestinian civilian with a knife. And the Palestinian perpetrator will be jailed but nothing will happen to the Israeli perpetrator (unless he is commended for service to Israel).

But it is far from one for one. In fact the whole statistic table of homicides is hugely favourable to the Israeli Zionists, which is not surprising as they have an air force, a sophisticated land army and a navy with missiles, while all the military force the Palestinians have to fight back with are various groups of guerrillas (many not Hamas, incidentally) and some rockets and mortars the sites of which, once they fire, can be located and wiped out by the Israelis. And of course, the Palestinians have their own bodies: the unarmed demonstrators (on occasion, rioters), those who rush to help the victims of an Israeli munitions strike and are caught in the second strike and other civilians who just happen to be passing by or living where an Israeli bomb or missile strikes.

Violent deaths of Palestinians and Israelis from 2000-2014
(Source: Phan Nguyen, Mondoweiss.net)

And the imbalance in numbers of children killed is even more horrific – not that one would want to see a balance of any children killed (the israelpalestinetimeline site provides a number of other statistical charts).

TONE OF THE COMPLAINT AND BBC ACQUIESENCE

Having explored the issue of context sufficiently, I think, let us return to the Israeli Minister’s complaint and, setting aside the content, look at the tone of it:

Verified account

Emmanuel Nahshon‏ @EmmanuelNahshon

More

.@BBCWorld this is a formal complaint by @IsraelMFA .This title is a deliberate misrepresentation of reality ( that’s the polite equivalent of “ this is a LIE”, if you don’t get it). Israelis were targeted by Hamas and IDF acts to protect them.Change it IMMEDIATELY!!!

This suggests to the reader an arrogant figure, one in authority, ordering an underling. The arrogance may or may not have arisen through the individual’s life experience or through his position in Israeli society or through his culture – but what does he think gives him the authority to talk down this way to a world media corporation belonging to a major imperialist power?

I would speculate that the answer is that Zionist Israel knows that it is supported by an even bigger imperialist power than the one whose media organisation the Minister is addressing. Israel is backed by the USA, currently the biggest and strongest imperialist power in the world. And furthermore, since British imperialism lost its position at the top after WWII and later gave up or set aside its dream of returning to that elevation, it determined to partner the USA. This has been clear in its contribution of troops to Korea, in putting no obstacle to Australian troops to Vietnam, in contribution of troops and/ or military resources to the bombing of Libya and the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan and war in Syria.

The Israeli Minister seems to assume that he is speaking to one of his protector’s minor employees – and who can blame him for that? In addition, British imperialism has been, on the whole, backing US imperialist ambitions, strategy and tactics in Israel and in the Middle East, only very occasionally disagreeing on even tactics.

And when the BBC caved in, it confirmed that Israeli Minister’s opinion and, furthermore, made it the opinion of many others too!

And all of this will compound the belief among anti-imperialists around the world and among Arabs and Muslims, that news is propaganda, and that western media news is mostly anti-Palestinian, anti-Arab and anti-Muslim propaganda.

18-Month Bayan Khammash is carried in a funeral procession with the body of her pregnant Mother, Inas Muhammed Khammash, all killed by Israeli bombing of Gaza on August 9th.
(Photo source: Internet)

So how did the BBC amend their headline in the end? They changed it to Gaza airstrikes ‘kill woman and child’ after rockets hit Israel”.

So there you have it now: Gaza fired rockets at Israel and killed a woman and child, presumably in Israel!

End.

SOURCES:

Original event on which the BBC was reporting

https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180809-israel-air-strikes-kill-3-including-pregnant-mother-toddler-in-gaza/

Reporting on the change of headline

https://www.telesurtv.net/english/news/BBC-Changes-Headline-After-Israeli-Complaint-20180809-0027.html

https://morningstaronline.co.uk/article/bbc-condemned-for-changing-headline-after-israeli-spokesman-demands-it

A Scottish take on the issue:

http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/16410049.bbc-switch-off-campaign-goes-viral-but-is-the-publicly-funded-broadcaster-really-biased/

Statistics

https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/palestinian-rocket-and-mortar-attacks-against-israel

https://mondoweiss.net/2014/07/rocket-deaths-israel/

https://israelpalestinetimeline.org/charts/

https://israelpalestinetimeline.org/yotam-ovadia/

https://israelpalestinetimeline.org/wisam-yousef-hijazi/

FOOTNOTES

1These figures were quoted by Wikipedia which is given to quoting Israeli propaganda, including statistics, without verification but can no doubt in this case be checked by going to the source.

AN OLD WAR WITH A LESSON FOR TODAY

Diarmuid Breatnach

August 9th is the anniversary of the last blows struck in the Battle of Annual, which took place in the Rif, in the Maghreb region of North Africa in 1921. The battle was a major defeat for the Spanish military and part of the Rif people’s resistance which was suppressed with genocidal weapons ferocity by the Spanish and French imperialists, including the use of chemical weapons of mass destruction by the Spanish.

Illustration of the death of a Spanish General Margalla in a much earlier colonialist venture into the Maghreb, 1893 (source of imageL

Many features of this struggle bear important lessons for us today wherever we are in the world but perhaps in particular to the Catalans struggling for independence. And although the struggle of the Rif people was apparently noted by Ho Chi Minh and Che Guevara, who we are told learned guerrilla tactical lessons from it, it seems mostly forgotten and Wikipedia’s coverage (the Rif Wars) is modest.

THE BATTLE

In 1921 the Spanish State sent armed forces to extend their area of control beyond the coastal strip around Ceuta and Melilla and other bases in North Africa. They had penetrated 130 kilometres when they encountered light resistance of a skirmishing nature, which continued for five days.

At the end of that period, on August 22nd the Berbers attacked the Spanish Army’s encampment at Annual in force with 3,000 irregulars against Spain’s 5,000 soldiers. General Silvestre decided upon a withdrawal along the line of their earlier advance and that march began in order at 10am but soon turned into a rout, with Spanish soldiers killed by bullet or knife. The dead presumably included Silvestre, whose body was never found.

In the following days the Berbers overran more than 130 Spanish guard stations (containing up to 20 men), took a number of towns and reached the Spanish colony town of Melilla, which Abd el Krim did not attack for fear of other nations being drawn in to defend their resident nationals in the city, a decision he apparently regretted for the rest of his life. The Spanish evacuated fleeing colonists but soon reinforced some towns in particular Melilla, mainly with the Spanish Legion and Moroccan Regulares.

A somewhat menacing representation of the face of Abd el Krim in Time Magazine, 1925, during the life of the Rif Republic (image sourced: Wikipedia).

Analysis of the defeat tends to lay the blame on lack of military efficiency on the side of the Spanish without giving any credit to the tactics or leadership of the Berbers. If that were an accurate assessment one wonders why Guevara and Ho Chi Minh could be reputed to have learned lessons in guerrilla warfare from the conduct of the battle by the Berbers.

Wiki gives a Rifian casualty figure of 800 but reports that “final official figures for the Spanish death toll, both at Annual and during the subsequent rout which took Riffian forces to the outskirts of Melilla, were reported to the Cortes Generales (Spanish Parliament) as totaling 13,192 killed”; Wiki also says the Spanish may have lost up to 20,000.

As well as loss of men, the Spanish Army lost huge amounts of war material which were of course used against them later. Wiki: “11,000 rifles, 3,000 carbines, 1,000 muskets, 60 machine guns, 2,000 horses, 1,500 mules, 100 cannon, and a large quantity of ammunition.  Abd el Krim remarked later: “In just one night, Spain supplied us with all the equipment which we needed to carry on a big war.” Other sources give the amount of booty seized by Rif warriors as 20,000 rifles (German-made Mausers), 400 machine guns (Hotchkisses)) and 120–150 artillery pieces (Schneiders).”

Kaid Sarkash (Riffian leader) pictured in 1924 with another, both Berbers carrying captured rifles: Spanish Mauser & French Berthier Carbine.
(Photo sourced: Wikipedia)

The Spanish imperial-colonialists had lost all the territory they had gained in the region since 1909, lost some stature in the eyes of colonised people and lost face among its other imperialist and colonialist competitors, which might have mattered most to the Spanish authorities. Readers from the Spanish state can confirm or deny what Wiki states, that the defeat is seen there as the worst of the Spanish Army in modern times.

The victorious Berbers under Abd el Krim set up the Rif Republic in September 1921 and tried unsuccessfully for recognition from Britain and from France. There does not seem to be much written about the Republic or if there is, it is difficult to find.

Territory of the Rif Republic (outlined in red) next to “Spanish North Africa”
(image sourced: Wikipedia).

POLITICAL CRISIS AND CHANGE

In response to the Battle of Annual, PSOE delegate and prominent party member Indalecio Prieto declared in the Congress of Deputies: “We are at the most acute period of Spanish decadence. The campaign in Africa is a total, absolute failure of the Spanish Army, without extenuation.”  A War Ministry investigative commission (headed by a General!) although it detailed a number of military mistakes, due to political interference failed to lay the blame squarely on the Army.

The political crisis however led to a great fall of confidence in the Spanish feudal-type military caste ruling class and in the monarch, King Alfonso XIII which is credited with contributing significantly to the birth of the Second Republic (1931-1939 – the one that was overthrown by military uprising and led to the Franco dictatorship, from which the current State has evolved).

WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION

However, the loss of face for the Spanish imperial State also led to a thirst for revenge in sections of the Spanish ruling class and military. In 1923 Miguel Primo de Rivera1 led a military coup d’etat in Spain, blaming all problems on parliamentary democracy (such as existed) and was supported by the King, Alonso XIII. From the following year until 1927, Rivera took command of the campaign in the Rif and in 1925 the French, although competitors with the Spanish, joined the offensive.

Spain was an early user of chemical weapons against civilian populations and according to Wiki, “between 1921 and 1927, the Spanish army indiscriminately used phosgene, diphosgene, chloropicrin and mustard gas (known as Iperita2). Common targets were civilian populations, markets, and rivers.  In a telegram sent by the High Commissioner of Spanish Morocco Dámaso Berenguer on August 12, 1921 to the Spanish minister of War, Berenguer stated:

I have been obstinately resistant to the use of suffocating gases against these indigenous peoples but after what they have done, and of their treacherous and deceptive conduct, I have to use them with true joy.

The gases were produced illegally in Germany and sold to and bought illegally by Spain and later produced also illegally in Spain. The German chemist concerned, Hugo Stoltzenberg, was later granted Spanish citizenship but joined the Nazi Party during WWII and after the War continued his chemical weapons research in Hamburg. He sold his factory in 1969 and died in 1974.

The war was fought with ferocity on both sides but the Spanish and French had superior armament, aircraft and the Spanish at least dropped chemical weapons on civilian centres, killed domesticated animals and poisoned drinking water and fish. In two years most of the Berber resistance was crushed and in July 1927, Abd el Krim surrendered to the French, who exiled him. The French and Spanish abolished the short-lived Rif Republic, the first in North Africa.

An Association for the Defence of Victims of the Rif War considers that effects of the use of those chemicals have persisted and account for the high incidence of cancers in the population of the area.

There is a Catalan independentist sequel; according to Wiki: “On February 14, 2007, the Catalan party of the Republican Left (Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya) passed a bill to the Spanish Congress of Deputies  requesting Spain to acknowledge the “systematic” use of chemical weapons against the population of the Rif mountains. The bill was rejected by 33 votes from the governing PSOE and the opposition right-wing PP who form the majority in the Spanish parliament.”

BACKGROUND – IMPERIALISTS DIVIDING PLUNDER

The Treaty of Fez 1912 was one in which Sultan Abdelhafid ceded Morocco to the French, who shared the spoils out thus: for recognising the treaty and land gained, Germany, which they added to their Cameroon colony but German also ceded to France and area which is now part of Chad. The Spanish got part of the Rif area including an iron mine and permission to build a railroad to it, which was the cause of riots and the start of the First Rif War. The Battle of Annual took place in what is called the Second Rif War and the joint French-Spanish offensive and use of chemical weapons in the Third Rif War.

But already in 1904 the UK, France and Italy in secret treaties had divided between them the Maghreb (that area covering almost the whole of North Africa and today including Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, Mauritania and Western Sahara) into spheres of influence.

TODAY

What remains of that “Spanish North Africa” is Ceuta and Mellila, which Morocco demands Spain decolonise and the Spanish State denies are colonies at all. In 1965 the UN asked the Spanish State to decolonise the territory and in 1966 that it hold a referendum, neither of which it did. From 1973 the Saharawi people fought very successfully under the Polisario Front against Spanish occupation and in 1975/76 the Spanish State abandoned Western Sahara without handing it over to the Saharawi people but by agreement with Morocco and Mauritania which then moved in, since when Morocco has fought the Saharawi people without the latter’s surrender. Mauritania withdrew its claim in 1979 but Morocco has claimed the entire territory and its natural resources (which are significant) and attacked Saharawi settlements and jailed and tortured activists. Other Saharawi people live as refugees in Algeria. The UN does consider that the Saharawi are entitled to self-determination and recognises the Polisario Front as the legitimate representatives of the people and has stated that Morocco should withdraw; the UN maintains a post there but does not monitor Moroccan state actions towards the Saharawi, much less police them.

The UN does not list Ceuta or Melilla as areas in need of decolonisation.

Flag of the Rif Republic design (source: Wikipedia)

Currency note of the Riffan Republic – note conversion rate into English or French currency but not Spanish!
(image source: Wikipedia)

LESSONS

The Rif War has a fair bit of overall coverage on Wikipedia but very little on the Berber leader Abd el Krim and even less on the Berber Republic. I look forward to finding more material about it for my education. I came across this whole struggle by accident and indeed, by strange coincidences, I have family and personal connection to Arab and Berber anti-colonial resistance in the region.

However, the lessons for us and in particular for the Catalans are these, I believe and, given what is at stake now and the enormous human cost paid to obtain those lessons, we should be prepared to study them:

  • The Spanish ruling class was a ferocious one in modern times even before the Franco regime. It showed its ferocity again during the Franco years, during the Transition and, when it felt it necessary, in years since – including under a social-democratic government. It has not at all changed.

  • Capitalists and imperialists will cede no territory unless it is absolutely unavoidable to do so or unless they gain some alternative territory elsewhere. This was true of Spanish North Africa – how much more so will it be true of what they consider as their territorial base and one of the most economically successful parts of that ‘base’!

  • The imperialists of the world, including long-established democracies, come to mutual arrangements which are often kept secret from their own populations.

  • Even competing imperialists will join with other imperialists or their atrocities will be ignored by competitors when they find it in their imperialist interests to do so. As the EU President has already shown, there is no help coming from the European capitalist and imperialist states for Catalan independence – not even a public condemnation of Spanish police violence.

  • Liberals and social-democrats who espouse anti-colonial feeling have a tendency to end up, however reluctantly, supporting their state’s repression of colonialised people’s resistance. This has been seen and will continue to be seen in the PSOE but may also come to be seen in sections of Podemos – with the latter, one can certainly not expect energetic defence of self-determination.

  • A serious defeat for the ruling class can destabilise it sufficiently for revolution or radical reform to take place and to succeed. In this way, should the people of Catalunya succeed in establishing and defending an independent republic there, it could be the spark that sets off detonations throughout the state and allows a genuinely democratic Spanish Republic to emerge. Which means that all genuine democrats in that state should support and strive for the victory of the Catalonian people, both for the rights of the Catalan people but also in their own self-interest.

  • The imperialists violate rights but also language: just as they claimed then and still claim that Ceuta and Melilla are not colonies, so they claim that Catalunya and southern Euskal Herria are not either.

APPENDIX

COINCIDENCES

My father, Deasún Breatnach (1921-2007) worked in Tangiers in journalism for a short period, probably 1947-1949 (he married in Madrid in ’47 and seems to have been back in Ireland in ’49 or at least soon after). Tangiers at that time was by treaty (another imperialist one!) under the joint control of the British, French and Spanish. Deasún told a story that an Arab acquaintance contacted him saying he had an important friend who wished to meet him. Deasún attended by arrangement and the man, who was a muslim religious and temporal leader, wished to get a story of Spanish Army atrocities against people in the Rif, including electric shock torture, out to the world. Deasún took down the report and protest letter in English as requested and sent one copy to a world leader (I forget now but possibly Churchill) and another to the United Nations and filed a story about it to the Irish Press. The Press did not print it because, according to the Editor, they had no corroboration. Deasún said that the Gibraltar Times (if that is the correct name) had run a story on it also but by the time they had this discussion it was about a year later.

Unrelatedly, about a decade ago I joined a small group of activists in a solidarity campaign, Western Sahara Action Ireland, which ran a FB page and took a number of street actions (on a number of occasions harassed and threatened by thugs sent from the Moroccan Embassy). We also set up a “Sahara tent” at an Electric Picnic festival which was visited by Michael D. Higgins. The Coordinator of the WSAI group left to take up work elsewhere and, as a number of us were also active in other struggles we were unable to keep the group going but the page is still maintained and can be accessed at (see Links).

LINKS

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Annual

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rif_Republic

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chemical_weapons_in_the_Rif_War

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rif_War

Western Sahara: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Western_Sahara

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treaty_of_Fez

https://www.facebook.com/groups/256377861125569/

 

FOOTNOTES

1Whose son Manuel Primo Rivera was a prominent fascist in 1930s Spain.

2After Ypres, where the Germans used it in WWI for the first time.

OREGON USA: NO FREE SPEECH FOR FASCISTS!

Diarmuid Breatnach

 

Like fascists in many other parts of the world, those on the Oregon demonstration marched under the slogan of “free speech”.  NO FREE SPEECH FOR FASCISTS!

 

Police in Oakland, Oregon, went into riot police mode at a fascist march on Saturday (4th August 2018) which was opposed by anti-fascists. After maintaing a presence between the two forces for some time they eventually moved to break them up and employed ‘flash-bangs’ and other methods. The march without a permit by fascists was organised by the Patriot Prayer organisation led by Joey Gibson who is running for election to the US Senate and who declares that they are demonstrating for free speech.

Right-wing supporters of the Patriot Prayer group gather during a rally in Portland, Oregon, U.S. August 4, 2018. REUTERS/Jim Urquhart – RC1E0096DB40

Feelings in the town are already running high after a Patriot Prayer supporter was charged with stabbing a man who allegedly intervened to defend from harassment two women on a light-rail train last year, one of whom was wearing a hijab.

According to reports, Gibson declared to supporters that they were there “to teach a lesson to the country” minutes before they began to march. On June 30th, a previous Patriot Prayer event led to clashes with anti-fascist demonstrators, during which the Oakland police revoked the permit for the demonstration and declared a riot. Earlier on Saturday, in a response to Oakland Police reminding people of a city code banning carrying weapons in the public park, Gibson posted: We’ve always had guns at the rally. I cannot think of one rally when we didn’t have guns with us. Everywhere we go, we have guns.”

Anti-fascist opposition to Patriot Prayer march in Oregon USA. Note mixed attitudes of people wearing improvised riot gear and a placard apparently calling for peaceful opposition
(photo US Media).

Earlier, Portland Mayor Wheeler had expressed concern about the planned Patriot Prayer march, as had the Police Chief. Portland Police Bureau Chief Outlaw (yes, honestly) was appointed to post last year; an African-American woman, she started her career as a patrol officer and was appointed Deputy Chief to Oakland’s police department in 2013.

FASCISM AND FREE SPEECH ACROSS THE WORLD

In 2016 Tommy Robinson led a couple of hundred supporters in Birmingham, Britain to launch the anti-Muslim group Pegida UK, which he founded as part of a Europe-wide fascist initiative intending to launch Pegida in a city in every European state (they failed spectacularly in Dublin, see Rebel Breeze report in Links). Two years earlier, he had led the Islamophobic English Defence League which soon split and melted away.

(photo US Media).

Like Robinson, who was recently given a 13-month sentence for contempt of court in Britain and even more recently released on bail for retrial, the call of fascists when not in power or in position of strong dominance is always for “free speech”. Once dominance is achieved, the fascist call for “free speech” changes to slogans such as ending freedom of speech if it is considered “unpatriotic”, advocating “race-mixing” or “moral degeneracy” and, of course “communist propaganda”. When in power they enforce the elimination of what they consider undesirable free speech, including criticism of policies or leadership even from within their own ranks. When in a dominant position in a country, region or area, fascists enforce their control of “free speech” through terror attacks on their opposition or target communities, with or without collusion with the State, military or local police force. When fascists have state control, they limit free speech through laws, court and prison, in addition to extra-legal fascist attacks and assassination squads.1

Fascists seek to establish a safe “beach head” upon which to build and from which to extend. If successful, they attract more and more followers, while they intimidate their opposition and their targets. But in failure, as when driven off the street, their opposition and targets grow in confidence and the fascist organisations usually disintegrate in internal struggles between cliques and denunciations of their unsuccessful leaders.

That is the well-documented history of fascism which the fascists try to conceal while weak but in which they glorify when in power. Unfortunately, liberals, whose bodies exist in the real world but whose ideology lives in a world of make-believe, unknowingly collude with this trajectory. Again and again they insist that the fascists and racists which they abhor must be given freedom of speech and even accuse the anti-fascists of a kind of fascist authoritarianism.

When liberals do turn to wanting to control the freedom of fascists to organise, as some do at some stages, they always appeal to the State to carry out that task for them. Sometimes, according to its interests at the time, the State will oblige, with measures sometimes including a wholesale banning2 but will often simultaneously ban progressive resistance movements.  More often it will oblige liberals by fines or short prison sentences on fascists or by anti-racist or anti-”hate” legislation. And often, fascists attempt to turn these too to their advantage, projecting themselves as martyrs of “free speech”.

The only effective remedy is that anywhere and everywhere, fascists are denied free speech – not by the State (whose capitalist interests are anti-socialist and will often recognise the usefulness of fascists) but by the alliance of anti-fascist interests: ethnic minorities, LBGT groups, communists, women, trade unions. This thesis has emerged out of an ideological battle that has been largely won decades ago among the Left and Republican movement in Ireland but which the general Left at times fails to put into practice – had it been left to them, Pegida’s attempted Dublin launch would not have been quite the ignominious defeat it was.

In this context the stand of the “Resist Patriot Prayer” march must be applauded. Their Facebook event description included the following sentence: “We make no apologies for the use of force in keeping our communities safe from the scourge of right-wing violence.”


End.

LINKS

Oregon, Oakland events, report by PBSO News Hour: https://www.pbs.org/newshour/nation/portland-police-city-officials-prepare-for-right-wing-rally-and-counter-protest

and Associated Press in ABC7 News: http://abc7.com/politics/heavy-police-presence-as-right-wing-rally-begins-in-portland/3883335/

Rebel Breeze report on failed Pegida launch in Dublin: https://rebelbreeze.wordpress.com/2016/02/08/pegida-planned-launch-ends-in-sinking-survivors-take-to-lifeboats/).

Attempted coordination of Fascist movement from USA across Europe: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/jul/29/tommy-robinson-far-right-resurgence-steve-bannon-us-support

 

FOOTNOTES

1 Fascist movements and states are often plagued by splits, attempted coups and conspiracies. In June 1934, the Nazi SS and Gestapo attacked their former allies, the Nazi SA (Brownshirts), wiping out the leadership and dispersing the organisation in the event often called “The Night of the Long Knives”. They also wiped out a number of conservative anti-nazis. The death-toll has been widely debated, some estimates placing it between 700 and 1,000.

2  As by the British state of the British Union of Fascists during WWII, while their leader Oswald Mosely was placed under house arrest in a comfortable country house and land (or by De Valera of the Blueshirt movement in 1930s Irish state). However, less than a decade earlier in 1936, at the Battle of Cable Street when anti-fascists defeated the Blackshirts’ attempted invasion of London’s East End, the primary force fighting the anti-fascist resistance was 7,000 foot police and all the mounted police in London.

DRUMMING SOLIDARITY FOR BASQUE POLITICAL PRISONERS

Diarmuid Breatnach

 

On July 7th (the San Fermin feast day) 1985 two Basque political prisoners escaped from the Spanish prison of Martutene during a concert. The escape was received joyfully in the Basque Country and in other places and celebrated also in song composed by the Basque ska-punk band Kortatu (1984-1988). The song is called Sarri, Sarri, a nickname made from Sarrionandia, the paternal surname of one of the escapees, who was serving 22 years form membership of ETA, the Basque left-independentist armed organisation.

 

 

 

The song is performed annually (see video) in the Orereta/ Errenteria area to the accompaniment of massed drummers, a denborrada or tamborrada(“a drumming”), in the province of Gipuzkoa, near the French State border and not very far from Donosti/ San Sebastian and was done as a gesture of solidarity with the Basque political prisoners. In its report on the first quarter of 2018, Etxerat, the association of political prisoners’ families and friends, recognised 287 prisoners but over the years a number of Basque prisoners have left the collective but are still serving time, a few doing so since the changes in policy of ETA and of the Abertzale Left leadership. Of the 287 recognised by Etxerat,twenty-two were terminally or seriously ill and should have been paroled under Spanish and French laws, only three were serving sentences in the Basque Country and four seriously-ill on parole, 280 being dispersed in jails throughout the French and Spanish states. Relatives and friends able for the long journeys have to travel distances of between 100 to 1,100 kilometers from the Basque Country and many traffic accidents, some fatal, have occurred on those journeys.

ETA (Euskadi1 Ta Askatasuna = Basque Nation and Freedom) was formed in the late 1960s and for almost a decade did not engage in armed activity, though its members and supporters were hounded, tortured and jailed by the Spanish State, after which it turned to armed actions. The organisation called a “permanent truce” some years ago and recently dissolved itself in what seems to have been a bid by the pro-independence left’s political leadership to enter some kind of peace process with the Spanish State, in which the latter is clearly uninterested or perhaps as a move to ease the conditions and possibly sentences of Basque political prisoners.

Amnistia Ta Askatasuna (“Amnesty & Freedom”), an organisation campaigning for prisoners which does not recognise the official movement’s leadership exists, and though small, is active in many parts of the nation.

 

THE ESCAPEES

Iñaki “Pitti” Pikabea continued active in ETA and was sadly recaptured in 1987; he was paroled in 2000. Joseba Sarrionandia Uribelarrea kept low and avoided the authorities, although publishing writings and earning awards, until he surfaced in Cuba, where he lives to this day, as a writer and also a lecturer at the University of Havana.

Joseba Sarrionandia through the ages (images sourced: Internet)

Among Sarrionandai’s many writings (articles, poems, novels), on 3rd October 2011, the Basque Government and Spanish State were embarrassed to learn that Sarrionada had received a prestigious literary awarded, the Euskadi Prize for Essay in Basque for his work Moroak gara behelaino artean? (Are we Moors in the fog?) on the miseries of colonialism.2

End.

 

LINKS:

Joseba Sarrionandia Uribelarrea: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseba_Sarrionandia

Etxerat report January-March 2018: http://www.etxerat.eus/index.php/es/informes/mensual

Amnistia Ta Askatasuna: https://www.facebook.com/amnistiataaskatasuna/ and http://amnistiaaskatasuna.blogspot.com/

Video of this year’s Denborrada: https://www.facebook.com/KatiuskakArgazkiEstudioa/videos/1879014595499250/?t=6

 

FOOTNOTES

1“Euskadi” nowadays normally means three of the southern (i.e under Spanish rule) Basque provinces combined in the “Basque Autonomous (sic) Region” and therefore excludes the other southern province, Nafarroa and the three northern provinces (i.e under French rule); “Euskal Herria” (the H is silent), i.e “the land where the people speak Basque” is the widely-accepted name for the Basque nation now.

2From Wikipedia (see Links): “On 3rd October 2011, Sarrionandia was awarded the Euskadi Prize for Essay in Basque for his work Moroak gara behelaino artean? (Are we Moors in the fog?) on the miseries of colonialism; however, the Basque Government withheld the prize sum of 18,000 euros until the author’s status was resolved. On the same day, judges and lawyers interviewed by media confirmed that Sarrionandia could not be prosecuted by Spanish law, as more than 20 years had passed since his original prison sentence and his escape. While terrorist acts have no time limit, the provision applies only if there was at least one victim. After a month and a half, the Spanish High Court confirmed to the Basque government that Sarrionandia was ‘clean’, with no criminal or civil liability. The prize amount was handed over to his family”.

THEY DON’T BELIEVE IN REVOLUTION

Diarmuid Breatnach

          Most people here in Ireland and probably in large parts of the world, don’t believe in revolution, i.e in the act of overthrowing the social class in control. It’s not so much that they are against it, although a minority might fear the consequences or others might think that whatever gains they’d make would be transitory; it’s that they don’t believe it’s possible. Or they think it might be but in some distant future.

 

This is not surprising because if they did, if the mass of ‘ordinary’ people believed that a revolution was not only necessary but possible, it would already be occurring or at least well on the way.

What is surprising is that so many revolutionaries, or individuals, parties and organisations who think of themselves as revolutionary, or who would, if pressed, claim that they were – they don’t believe in it either!

By that I mean that they don’t see revolution as somewhere down the road, within sight if not necessarily close now, something to be moving towards that could well be reachable within their lifetimes. They might argue that it is not so, that they study revolutionary theory, try to conduct themselves according to revolutionary principles, study revolutionary struggles in history, organise, propagate revolutionary ideas ….. In general, I would not refute those claims but I would still say: They don’t believe in revolution.

And what’s more, that applies equally but in different ways to Irish socialists and to Irish Republicans.

I remember attending a small discussion group once organised by one of the small Irish socialist parties (small are the only kind we have in Ireland) at which the topic being discussed was the H-Blocks campaign. At one point, a prominent member of the organisation declared that the Republicans believe in armed struggle and that their party did not believe in that. Of course I pointed out Lenin’s position on this and the person backtracked but still …..

That was but a small indication of the general malaise but significant all the same. Both socialists and Republicans declare that they are not merely for reform but for the overthrow of the Irish native and colonial ruling classes. Objectively they would acknowledge that this endeavour would require an enormous effort and sacrifice. They would also concede that the ruling classes would not go quietly and, if pressed, would admit (some more readily than others), that the ruling class would resort to imprisonment, repressive legislation and, ultimately, armed power in order to prevent their overthrow.

If they believed the above and also believed a revolution was not only necessary but possible, they’d be preparing for that – but they are not.

Clearly an understanding of the theory of class, history, economics, culture etc. are all necessary. Principles of personal conduct and of organisation are very important too. But the application of principles of revolutionary organisation, the organisational preparedness for conflict and repression, the bringing of the objective into view as attainable – where is that? In the socialist camp, it is generally nowhere to be seen. In the Republican camp, it is visible only in very limited and restricted forms.

 

ORGANISATION

          Socialists accept on a theoretical level that the revolutionary organisation of at least a large section of the working class is necessary in order to achieve a socialist revolution. Many Republicans would probably agree. But the overall practice of both camps is in clear contradiction to that principle.

We can see that clearly if we investigate a little how the working class needs to be organised as a fighting movement in which a large section can become revolutionised, conscious of itself as the leading class of the revolution and not only preparing for but engaging in struggle to that end.

Clearly, an actual mass workers’ organisation is required, a mass organisation based on workplaces, industries, communities where workers live. For the moment, I don’t wish to discuss whether that mass organisation be a party, a movement, a trade union, or a federation of collectives — nor do I think it necessary to specify type in order to develop the point I am making.

OK, so what are the Republicans or socialists doing to achieve that mass organisation of the working class?

In Ireland the most readily-understood and ready-to-hand mass organisations for workers are the trade unions. They are led for the most part by bureaucrats from the top down to shop steward and often even there, the dominant societal ideology is some level of reformist social democracy, the higher leadership is dominated by careerists and opportunists, often linked to a political party of the capitalist system and, as if that weren’t enough, all those tendencies brought them into two decades of formal social partnership (sic) with State and Employers which totally atrophied whatever fighting muscle they may once have had.

Yes, all that. And even so, it is the place to begin.

On the whole, except for some exceptional individuals and perhaps some very short historical periods, Irish Republicans have not bothered with trade unions. Certainly, the Republican movement as a whole has not considered it an important area of struggle for the movement.

Socialists, on the other hand, have generally rated the importance of struggle in the trade union movement very highly. They have participated in elections to become shop stewards, organised industrial resistance action, at times combined to try to elect more militant higher officials, produced leaflets for and about workers’ struggles, sold papers on picket lines and brought speakers from strikes to speak at public meetings. But all those efforts have not produced a revolutionary or even a militant workers’ movement.

A shop steward represents the members who elected her and, her personality apart, they will have a range of views about her political ideology. A more militant trade union higher official may push for more militant action with more or less success – or may increasingly become part of the problem. Some workers may find an interest in some of the ideas expressed in newspapers of the Left and may or may not join this or that party. None of that is organising a worker’s mass movement.

How about then, organising a broad worker’s movement, across many different workplaces?

Now, that has actually been done. Such organisations have been given titles like “Broad Left” or “Grassroots”. And in terms of building a workers’ organisation, they were a colossal failure, the experience of them probably enough to put most workers off socialist politics for a long time, if not forever. The main reason for their failure is that various socialist organisations or parties used them as forums to fight for the dominance within the broader organisation of their party, their organisation, over others.

In one kind of work or large organisation, one of those parties became dominant while another party claimed dominance in another. Sometimes control of one “grassroots” union organisation shifted backwards and forwards, year after year, between different political Left parties as the latter’s fortunes waxed and waned, as they suffered splits, as they formed different alliances.

Pickets outside the Dublin depot of the Greyhound waste collection company in a 14-week dispute in 2014. Community and political activists organised support but there was no workers’ grassroots movement do the same.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

Still, it does seem to me, as one who has been a worker in both the manual and what might be called the clerical types of work, as a revolutionary and active trade unionist, that the grassroots model is the one to follow, in order to create the nucleus for the mass workers’ movement. It needs to be based not in one union, not organised around electing different officials (though it may do that from time), certainly not around parliamentary electoral politics in general and not to be the fief or plaything of any political party or parties of the Left. It needs to be based in general on active resistance, on struggle, on solidarity across unions, across workplaces and across industries. It can develop participative democratic forms of membership and representation, its own mass media and in time, cultural and education groups, mutual aid etc, extending into the whole life of the working class.

But who is undertaking that work? Nobody.

REPRESSION & UPRISING

          Moving on to another area of preparation for revolution, if we accept that the revolutionary path necessarily incurs repression from the class (or classes) that we seek to overthrow, then we’d need to know something about street fighting, about being interrogated in detention, and prison life, right? At least here we find quite a few Republicans nodding in agreement. But the socialists? Blank looks from them.

Deviating from the rich literature on the Irish Republican jail experience, this is about the prison struggles of John Barker, an English political prisoner jailed with social criminals in British jails in the 1970s. (Image source: Internet).

However, not all is well here among the Republicans, either. Not all will be having any kind of training in resisting interrogation and hardly any at all in discussion of theory and practice in street fighting. Due to traditions in particular from the 1970s onwards, prison for Republicans in Ireland usually means segregation from people convicted of social crimes and segregation from other Republicans too, according to organisational membership or alliance. Still, a lot of experience has been accumulated in that kind of environment and extensively written and talked about in the Republican movement. But next to nothing about street fighting, unless we include in that the use of firearms or at least the construction of a Molotov cocktail. The engagements envisaged in that respect are of a hit-and-run nature, skirmishes and small battles ….. and not at all a popular uprising in which extended conflicts will become the rule, at least until revolution occurs or the ruling class, at least temporarily, gains the upper hand.

Two sides of street fighting — the people and the forces of repression — the Battle of the Bogside, Derry 1969. (Image sourced: Internet)

CONCLUSION

          If the areas I have pointed out are crucial areas of revolutionary preparation, we can perhaps agree on some principles:
A revolution in a developed capitalist society is not possible without a mass, militant and socially-politicised workers’ movement.

A revolutionary struggle entails physical confrontation, including large-scale street fighting and must expect repression; therefore revolutionary preparation must include training revolutionaries in conducting the first and resisting the second.

Those who are not undertaking work around those principles above, or at least considering how to do so, no matter how energetic or militant they may be, cannot be said to really believe in revolution; at most they can only see it as some distant thing, which perhaps another generation will undertake, some kind of life after their death.

And if they don’t believe in it, how can they expect others to believe?

End.

Catalonia continues resistance — summary to date

Diarmuid Breatnach

Introduction:

Readers are welcome to skip through the text to a section which is of particular interest to them (see Section Headings).

This account concentrates on the development of recent events in Catalonia and in response to events there; past history from prehistory through medieval times and even the detail of the 1930s war against fascism are omitted here but a 10-minute video included in the LINKS section may prove instructive and useful.

I have written this from a distance, in touch with Catalans at home and abroad, reading news reports and comments, viewing video footage etc. but not physically there on the ground.

What is happening needs to be viewed against the backdrop of history in general and that of the Spanish state in particular, while at the same time allowing for the particular nature of Catalonia and the people there.

A note about Terminology:

The word “independist”, whether as noun, adjective or adverb, does not exist in English, although its correspondent does in a number of other languages, including Castillian (Spanish) and Catalan: independentista. In English, one has to say something like “pro-independence movement, person” etc which grows tiresome after awhile, “independentist” seems too long for easy use so I am using “independist” here throughout and would not be surprised to see it become an accepted word in the English language. “Nationalist” will not do, since not all nationalists are for complete independence and socialists who are for complete independence would reject the description “nationalist”.

The Iberian Peninsula with the exception of Portugal is usually referred to by people abroad as “Spain” and as a “country” too. Although there are a number of ways of understanding the term “country”, such discourse tends to favour the Spanish nationalist conception that the whole territory is Spanish with some merely regional differences, to account for the culture and language of such nations (or parts of nations) under their control as Euskal Herria (the Basque Country), Catalunya and the Països Catalans, Galicia, Asturias etc. In order to get over that problem of description, many among those captive nations refer to the whole territory as “the Spanish state” and I have done likewise.

Nations, parts of nations and regions within the Spanish State (some extend into French State territory but that is not shown on this map). Image source: Internet

However, what to call the State itself then, the executive administrative arm of the Spanish ruling class and its various arms? “Government” will not do, since different parties run the Government at different times but the State remains. I call that also the “Spanish State”, with a capital “S” on the word “State” in this case.

SECTION HEADINGS:

  • Introduction (and Note on Terminology)

  • Geographic and Cultural Background of Catalonia

  • Economy of Catalonia

  • The Independence Movement in General: Introduction; a) Support for Independence; b) Opposition to Independence

  • Support for and Opposition to Catalan independence elsewhere in the Spanish State

  • Attitude of the EU to Catalan Independence and the current crisis

  • Ideology, Strategic Aims and Tactics within the Independist Movement

  • Some Conclusions

    • Critical mass

    • Leadership

    • Ideology and Preparation

  • Appendix A: Political Parties Background

  • Appendix B: Video of Spanish police raids on September 20th and Catalan resistance

Geographic and Cultural Background of Catalonia:

          Located on the north-east and Mediterranean coast of the Spanish state, Catalonia is a region within the Spanish State with a population of a little over 7.56 million. With its own language and culture, Catalonia is also part of the wider Països Catalans (Catalan Countries) which include Perpignan (south-south-east in the French state), Valencia and the Balearic Islands (east of the Spanish state); in all of these the Catalan language or a version of it is spoken (as well as Spanish in most – French in others). Catalan belongs to the Romance group of languages (which include the state languages of Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian, Romanian). Catalonia is considered by some a nation while others consider it only part of the wider Països Catalans nation.

Demonstration for amnesty and release of Catalan political prisoners 1917. (Photo source: Internet)

Catalan republican flags juxtaposed; the one to the right would be categorised as further to the Left poliitically.
(Image from photo D.Breatnach)

Catalonia now has a Govern (government) of limited autonomy but it has a long history of being independent or of striving for independence and has for centuries been suppressed by the Spanish kingdom and the Catalan language restricted; after the Spanish Civil War/ Anti-Fascist War and the defeat of the Catalan forces along with the elected government of the Spanish State, the Franco dictatorship forbade any use of the Catalan language anywhere. The language is widely spoken now, especially within Catalonia where all but a tiny minority of education establishments teach through the medium of Catalan and it is being brought into use in all public services. However it is still forbidden to use it in the Cortes (Spanish Parliament) and some Spanish unionists continue to resist its usage in public services and education within Catalonia.

Traditional Catalan Ensenyera to the left of image and Spanish state flag to the right. All autonomous regions are obliged to fly the Spanish state flags on official buildings. They are permitted to fly their own flag there also but must be flown at a level below that of the Spanish one. (Image sourced: Internet)

Economy of Catalonia

“With 7.45 million people, the region accounts for 16% of Spain’s population. Its €215.6bn (£191bn) economy, larger than that of most countries in the eurozone, generates more than one-fifth of Spanish GDP, while Catalonia’s exports of €65.2bn represent more than one-quarter of the national total. At about €37bn, foreign investment in Catalonia accounts for more than one-quarter of inward investment to Spain.

“Catalonia also has lower unemployment and generally less income inequality than the rest of Spain. At 13.2%, the region’s jobless rate contrasts favourably with the 17.2% for the country as a whole.1 GDP per capita is not Spain’s highest, but it is higher than the national average, while inequality is lower. Catalans are more likely to feel well off than Spaniards as a whole.”2

The Independence Movement in General — Introduction

          For some years the independence movement in Catalonia has been gathering strength and momentum. After a number of initiatives in Catalonia and continuing arguments with the Spanish State (Government and Courts), including questions regarding the powers existing under the Statutes of Autonomy, elections for the ‘autonomous’ regional government in 2012 returned a majority of pro-independence candidates and they formed an independist regional Govern (Government). This Govern passed legislation on a number of issues: universal health care (including for migrants); social welfare housing and domestic fuel; protection from eviction for rent or mortgage arrears; tax increases on high sugar content fluids, big companies and big tourist establishments; abolition of bullfighting; tolerance of cannabis-growing associations; environmental protection.

However Spanish courts ruled that these legislative measures transgressed Spanish state legislation and could not therefore be enacted.

In 2014 a number of forces came together to hold a symbolic, non-binding referendum. Organised mostly from the grassroots and with Spanish Government and Catalan unionist denunciations and threats ringing in their ears, on 9th November 2014 over two million people took part, with the vast majority of them voting in favour.

A decision was taken by the Catalan Government with support from grassroots political and cultural associations to hold an official referendum within Catalonia to determine whether the population wished for independence or not. The Spanish State declared this would be illegal since the Spanish Constitution forbids the separation of any part of the territory except by majority decision of the Spanish Parliament (where the Catalan elected members will always be in a minority).

The independist Government proceeded to organise a referendum. As the date for the referendum approached, Spanish police (Guardia Civil) on 20th September 2017 raided Government and other buildings looking for ballot boxes but found hardly any. Another Spanish police force, the Policía Nacional, besieged the Barcelona offices of the CUP but were held off as its officers demanded a search warrant they were unable to produce. The police offensive brought tens of thousands of Catalans on to the streets to protest and to resist the attack (see Appendix B for film of the whole event).

A few weeks later, on 1st October 2017, as people queued up to vote in the Referendum, many having slept in the schools to be used overnight, the Guardia Civil stormed polling stations, confiscated ballot boxes, batoned voters and demonstrators and fired rubber bullets at them (though the use of these had been banned in Catalonia3).

Spanish police batoning unarmed demonstrators on Referendum day, 1 October 2017. (Image sourced: Internet)

From the ballot boxes that people managed to remove from danger of police confiscation, a majority had voted for independence and, on this basis, the Govern declared independence on 27th October 2017 (though suspending the status almost immediately afterwards). The Spanish State arrested a number of politicians and cultural activists on charges of violent rebellion and misuse (embezzlement) of public funds to fund the referendum and detained them in Madrid without bail. It also sought the arrests of other politicians who had gone into exile in Europe.

In addition, the Spanish Government activated a measure in the Spanish Constitution, Article 155, taking over the powers of the Catalan Government and immobilising it, controlling its finances (actions which some consider not only oppressive but illegal and are preparing to challenge in court). In addition it forced new elections in Catalonia, even though the legal power to call these resides within Catalonia alone but to no avail: the elections, held in December 2017 once again returned an independist majority to Parliament.

Due to the numbers of Catalan politicians in jail or in exile and the Spanish State’s refusal to either allow them to be elected from jail or exile, or even to authorise a proxy, the independists in the Parlament were hindered in forming a parliamentary council and Government Cabinet or in electing a parliamentary Speaker and Government President. The independists put up alternative candidates — although one of the independist parties disagreed with that measure — and they were elected.

The two independist parties JuntsXCat and ERC, with 34 and 32 seats respectively, form the Catalan Government, with the CUP and their four seats in ‘confidence and supply’ support (see Background Political Parties in Appendix A). This gives the independist Government a majority of one vote over the opposition’s total of 65 votes in the 135-seat Parlament but, with CUP’s four votes in support-and-supply of the Government, the independists have a majority of five.

Poster showing features of Catalan political prisoners and exiles. (Source: Designed by a Catalan for With Catalonia/ Leis an Chatalóin poster for solidarity picket June 2018)

Spanish control of the Catalan Government is now lifted and civil servant posts emptied by the Spanish State have been filled again. The Catalan Parlament and Govern is functioning and legations abroad are at work. The arrested activists were expected to go to trial in September; currently they continue in detention but finally being moved from Madrid to Catalonia4 and, as this article was being completed, were stripped of their elected Deputy status by Llarena, the judge overseeing the trial (but their representation by temporary proxies is permitted).

The Spanish State continues to seek the extradition of exiled activists. The Spanish Supreme Court Judge Llarena has confirmed they will be tried on charges of Rebellion and has sought permission to try them in absentia – penalty up to 35 years in jail — and has reinterpreted what Rebellion means from organising and participating in an armed uprising to holding a referendum not approved by the Spanish state. In addition he blamed the police violence on October 1st on the independists. The Judge has also confirmed that they will be tried for “embezzlement”, viz. allegedly diverting 1.1 million euro from Catalan public funds to help run the referendum but nobody knows from where comes this figure (though it turns out to be one euro for every referendum vote recorded for independence). Llarena has also decreed on 28th June that each of the 14 accused of embezzlement must deposit their share of 1.1 million euro into a reserve in case of judgement given against them. Furthermore, each was given two days to do this with a potential penalty of seizing their personal assets (e.g homes) if they did not meet the deadline.

a) Support for Independence within Catalonia

          The support for independence within Catalonia is difficult to quantify exactly but the referendum ballots counted in favour were 2,044,038 (92.01% of the total of 43.3% voting — however numbers and percentages are problematic since the Opposition called for a boycott of the referendum and the Guardia Civil seized a number of ballot boxes, closed polling stations and otherwise disrupted voting). In addition, in the December elections, this time with an undisputed 79.9% turnout, the total votes for the independists amounted to 47.50 % of those cast and they elected 70 out of 135 of the Parlament Deputies. Reasons for voting for independence are likely to be considered and deeply-held, given that they are votes against the status quo; however the emotional element, for example of injured national pride, cannot be discounted.

Unlike the opposition, a substantial part of the independence support is grassroots and active, as with the cultural organisations Omnium and in particular the ANC (Catalan National Assembly) and the political coalition of social activists which is the CUP. The ANC was the single most active body in organising the 2014 non-binding referendum and, along with Omnium, in organising the giant Diada (Catalan National Day) demonstration on September 11th 2017, which gave a huge push to the Referendum on October 1st. In fact, the ANC has been generally pushing the independence cart along, a point made by its new PresidentElisenda Paluzie, in a July 2017 interview with El Nacional.5

Huge demonstration Barcelona on the Diada, Catalonian national day 11th September 2017, organised from the grassroots (and wearing green) to show support for Catalan self-determination. (Photo source: Internet)

The workers’ movement is more difficult to analyse and evaluate. The two main trade unions in Catalonia are also the two major ones in the Spanish State: UGT and Comisiones Obreras (CCOO), probably accounting for 85% of trade union members in Catalonia. The leaderships of these two unions are generally social-democratic and Spanish unionist in outlook, UGT in particular being linked to the PSOE.

The Intersindical CSC is an independist and class union6 (i.e does not recruit members of State forces for control and repression) and in an April 2018 article in the conservative Spanish daily El Mundo, it claimed to have recruited an additional 520 members since October first, 40% of whom said they had left their respective unions because of the unions’ lack of support for the Catalan people. Intersindical is very small and at the time of interview claimed only 3,100 members but not only is it gaining members but spreading into new working areas. Intersindical and the student SEPC (Sindicat d’Estudiants dels Paisos Catalans) seem to be the only unions working in the independist movement, at the grassroots with mass organisations like the ANC.

Spokespersons for the two big Spanish unions admitted that they were losing some members because they were not supporting the independist movement but claimed they were also losing some who claimed their union was being too soft on nationalism. Both spokespersons claimed the losses were negligible in number and so they may be, in the context of the membership rolls for the Spanish state as a whole (and their declining membership generally throughout the state) but UGT was concerned enough to write to disgruntled members individually.7

While it is difficult to imagine what cause any member might have to accuse CCOO and UGT of being ‘soft’ on Catalan independism, the accusation might arise from the fact that the Catalan branches of both unions supported the October 3rd General Strike in protest against the Spanish police violence on October 1st, some workplaces only for a one-hour walkout to join the demonstration, although the unions’ headquarters had advised them not to do so. Independent unions had called the strike (ostensibly over economic causes as ‘political strikes’ are outlawed) and such was the level of public outrage at the actions of the Spanish police that even unionist-controlled unions in Catalonia felt obliged to join in.

Firefighter workers also participated prominently in demonstrations around the referendum on October 1st, acting as stewards and forming a barrier between the crowd and the Guardia Civil (and facing the latter), preventing or discouraging the Guardia from batoning or shooting rubber bullets at the demonstrators. Dockers too got involved, refusing to assist Guardia launches to dock and blowing car horns all night so as to render the police sleepless. How much the workers’ organisations in Catalonia may become part of the independist movement as a force remains to be seen.

The one-day general strike of October 3rd was a huge success (that appears to have been quickly forgotten, especially outside Catalonia) and showed the potential of the workers and mass of people in action. Hundreds of thousands participated in the action; major ports closed, major roads and motorways were blocked, bus and subways systems mostly stopped by 9.30 am, shops and stores closed, university classes were cancelled, major tourist facilities closed and the much-loved Barcelona football team joined the action. Demonstrators also went to stations of the Policia Nacional and denounced them, also congregated outside hotels accommodating the Guardia Civil and demanded they leave (some hotel managers did end up asking the police to leave).

Section of General Strike demonstration, Barcelona 3 Oct. 2017. (Image sourced: Internet)

The important failures were in not closing the airport and large industry, a reflection of control there by trade unions whose leadership are Spanish unionists. But that control slipped in many areas and those same trade unions in the cities found themselves obliged to support the strike and demonstrations, against the advice of their unions’ headquarters in Madrid, as noted earlier. The other hugely significant factor was that the strike was organised and planned in the first instance by independist trade unions of very small numbers, actively supported by the grassroots independist movement. And it moved quickly – just two days after the police attack on people voting in the Referendum.

Its effect on the Spanish State was also very noticeable: the Spanish Government declaring it illegal, the Minister of the Interior convening an emergency meeting and the King expressing his disapproval in a rare statewide speech – and yet no consequent arrests, clearly for fear of exacerbating the situation.

The fact that the November 8th General Strike was much less effective, despite its significant impact, and that the Mossos d’Escuadra (Catalan Police) in some places felt emboldened to remove protesters blocking roads (which they had not even attempted in October) only shows that the Catalan workers’ movement needs to develop further, to increase the authority of its voice. And it was also significant that the Catalan High Court (TSJ) dismissed a petition by the Foment del Treball Nacional employers’ group to have the strike deemed illegal (as a ‘political strike’).

Politically, the Independists are represented in the Parlament by three distinct parties: ERC, acronym for Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (Catalan Republican Left), JuntsxCat (Together for Catalonia) and the CUP (Candidatures d’Unitat Popular — Popular United Candidacies). It is thus an alliance across class lines, across Right and Left. The core of the JuntsxCat platform is PdeCat, a conservative and neo-liberal nationalist part at core but with many independist independents fronting it; ERC is currently an independist coalition with social-democratic leanings; CUP is also an independist coalition, a network of social and political activists of varied ideologies who until recently only intervened in municipal elections but with great effect. (for further information see Appendix A Political Parties Background)

Naturally there are some tensions between these different parties but they managed to cooperate in bringing the Referendum to fruition, after which the CUP began to criticise the Govern about the delay in implementing the decision for a Republic, also in yielding to Spain’s diktats and electing an alternative to Carles Puigdemont as President (even though he is not of their party). The ERC and JxCat had some difficulties in this period with one another (and even on one occasion some leading politicians of their own party) but they seem to agree with one another more often than they do with the CUP.

Currently the CUP is not part of the Government though they have a confidence-and-supply arrangement with it (i.e they will help to keep it in government against the attempts of the unionists [see next section]). One of their spokespersons in June 2017 accused the Cabinet of being “autonomist and autonomous”, i.e for autonomy rather than independence and also that they are autonomous from the popular movement, i.e not under its control. After much behind-scenes discussion on wording and content, on 5th July 2018, ERC and JxCat voted for the CUP motion calling for the Catalan Government’s social, environmental and financial legislation that was suspended by action of the Spanish State8 to be proceeded with and implemented, the motion passing by majority.

b) Opposition to Independence within Catalonia

          The opposition to independence within Catalonia is also difficult to quantify exactly but the referendum ballots counted against were 177,547 (7.99%); however the opposition had called for a boycott by their supporters of the referendum. But in the December 2017 elections with an undisputed 79.9% turnout. the total undisputed votes for the unionists amounted to 43.45% of those cast and they elected 65 of the 135 Parlament Deputies. Reasons for voting for the unionists may range from genuine antipathy to Catalonian independence through apprehension about the unknown (or about the reaction of the Spanish State) to party loyalty.

In addition, there was 8.58% of votes cast for the En Comú-Podem platform, which because of their varied positions and equivocation, cannot be properly assigned to being in favour of either unionism or independism (but see further below and also Appendix A)

Unlike much of their opposition, most of the unionist bloc (i.e politicians wanting Catalonia to remain in union with the Spanish state) is not known for grassroots activism.

Politically, the unionists are represented in the Parlament by three distinct parties: Ciudadanos (Citizens), Partido Popular, PSC (Catalan version of the PSOE). In addition Comú – Podem, also known as “Comuns” (Catalan version of Podemos in coalition with some alternative Left) most frequently opposes the independist bloc (see Appendix A Political Parties Background for further information).

Like the independist one, the unionist bloc crosses the right-left political divide, i.e from the extremely right-wing Ciudadanos to some of the moderate left “Comuns” and what unites them is opposing Catalan independence. In fact there are those who say that Ciudadanos itself has little to offer apart from that opposition, while the “Comuns” on the other hand have a social program. But on the implementation of the progressive social, economic and environmental legislation which the CUP proposed, the Comuns voted only for a report by December, abstaining with the unionist bloc on the actual implementation vote.

Support for and opposition to Catalan independence elsewhere in the Spanish State

          From the southern Basque Country there is strong support for Catalan independence since many there too want their own nation to be independent from the Spanish and French states. The Basque Country was the only region or nation that brought out a majority against the 1978 Constitution. Despite (or because of) the banning of the Euskera language and political representation, the nation carried out strong resistance to Franco’s rule. After the 1978 Constitution and the setting up of two partly-autonomous regions in the southern Basque Country, nationalist unity suffered somewhat of a blow but a significant section carried on cultural, political, social, industrial and armed resistance to Spanish rule. However the armed group has now surrendered its arms and dissolved and popular resistance is at a low ebb there at the moment.

There is support to be found for Catalan independence to various degrees of strength – but not at the moment by a majority – in the rest of the Països Catalans, the Canary Islands and the Celtic nations of Galicia and Asturias.

However, many fear that poor regions of the Spanish state — like Andalucia in the south, for example or Extremadura in the west — will suffer disproportionately if the Spanish state loses the revenue from Catalonia (and from the Basque Country). People agitating against Catalan independence often claim that the independists are motivated solely or mainly by Catalan greed to keep their own revenues. As part of this propaganda, the Catalan independence movement is portrayed in some quarters as led by bourgeois right-wing elements, ignoring all other aspects including the huge popular movement.

Attitude of the EU to Catalan Independence and the current crisis

          In the early days of the wave of Spanish state repression from October 2017 onwards, many commentators in Catalonia and their supporters outside called for the EU to intervene to restrain the Spanish state and even seemed to expect it to do so. Very quickly in this situation, without once condemning the undemocratic acts and violence of the Spanish state against an unarmed people demonstrating peacefully, the President of the EU Junker made his position very clear when he stated a breakaway Catalonia might give others similar ideas and that he did not wish to see “an EU of 99 states”.

The EU is a bloc essentially run by the most powerful states. Leaving Spain out of the equation for a moment and now that the UK is exiting, two of those powerful (and large) EU states are France and Italy. Italy is vulnerable to secession or independist movements in Sicily and Sardinia, while France is vulnerable also to independist movement by the Bretons, the northern Basque Country, Pau in the Occitania region and Perpignan, part of the Països Catalans as well as in Corsica.

Although the Catalonian struggle will probably find support to one level or another from a number of parties with small representation in the EU, along with small EU alliances, and an occasional Eastern European state, one can hardly imagine a situation that would find the EU as a body or with its leadership condemning the Spanish State, let alone trying to force it to let the Catalans go peacefully.

Ideology, Strategic Aims and Tactics within the Independist Movement

          The Independist movement is publicly united on the strategic aim of rupture with the Spanish state but as with such independist movements elsewhere historically it may be that some elements are more deeply committed to that aim than are others. Nevertheless, at the moment all parts of the movement seem to be moving resolutely enough in that direction.

The declared aim being an independent republic, the question arises, as with many movements in the past, of what kind of a republic? JuntsxCat is basically a Catalan neo-liberal capitalist party and has no intention of overthrowing capitalism and setting up a socialist state. The ERC is a republican party and despite its ‘Left” appellation and social-democratic approach is certain to compromise with Catalan capitalism and foreign imperialism. The CUP has consistently pushed for social programs and, though it may contain a variety of social and political attitudes because of its varied composition, is undoubtedly the most left-wing in its policy formulations and its practice. Accusations of lack of political realism of the CUP fail to take account of its growth in municipal elections and grass-roots campaigns and its decision to support JuntsxCat in the Catalonia for Yes Government while nevertheless obtaining the removal of its leader, Artur Mas, who had presided over Catalan police attacks on strikers and demonstrators.

Spokespersons of both JunstxCat and ERC (along with grass-roots organisation ANC) constantly emphasise their intention to employ, both currently and in future, exclusively peaceful methods and legal means. While a degree of this verbalisation could be attributed to tactical maneouvering the impression one gets is that it is more than that – that they truly believe that they will be permitted eventually to gain independence by relying exclusively on those means right to the end.

However, their beliefs are completely contradicted not only by the general historical experience of national liberation movements and of the working class but also by the specific history of the Spanish state. Imperialist and colonialist states do not lightly give up their possessions, nor do capitalist states contemplate the breakup of their territories with resignation. On the contrary, they resist such outcomes with armed force, not only because of the impact of the particular case of losing the breakaway nation but also because of the encouragement it gives to others under their control to do likewise (as well as to other capitalist states to take advantage of their perceived weakness).

In the case of the Spanish State, it is vulnerable to the breakaway in the first instance of Catalonia, followed quickly by the southern Basque Country provinces. The Països Catalans might follow soon and possibly also Asturias and Galicia. And perhaps the Canary Islands. In other words the Spanish state stands to lose quite quickly most of its northern lands including almost its entire border with the French state, followed by lands to the north-east including much of its Mediterranean coast, much of its Atlantic seaboard to the west  and territories far out to the south, in the Atlantic. The total area potentially lost comprises nearly half of the current territory of the State. No Spanish ruling class could contemplate such an outcome without preparing a last-ditch defence against it, which in this case would necessitate a serious legal and military attack on the Catalan independist movement.

In the unlikely event that the Spanish ruling class should be prepared to risk such a political outcome as outlined above from the departure of Catalonia, there is the direct economic impact on the Spanish economy of Catalonian departure alone: Catalonia currently accounts for more than one-quarter of the Spanish state’s exports, more than one-fifth of its GDP and 6% of taxation income (it actually pays 20% and then receives 14% back for public expenses). More than one-quarter of foreign investment to the Spanish state goes into Catalonia. In fact, outside of Madrid, the two most economically productive parts of the whole Spanish State are precisely Catalonia and the southern Basque Country.

Now, to the specific composition and history of the Spanish ruling class. From a long history of imperial conquest starting in medieval times, the aristocratic and monarchical ruling class in the Spanish state suppressed regional and national uprisings ferociously and, even after a late incorporation of some capitalist elements, overthrew two democratically-elected republican governments. The most recent occasion was the 1936 military uprising led by four generals of the Spanish Army against the democratically-elected Popular Unity Government. At the conclusion of its victory (with considerable Nazi and Fascist assistance) over the popular forces, a fascist dictatorship followed from 1939 to 1978, characterised by fundamentalist Christian, Spanish nationalist and fascist ideology, with any democratic opposition of parties or trade unions and use of all languages other than Castillian banned and severe punishments for transgression.

L-R: Juan Carlos de Borbón and his mentor, fascist dictator General Franco. Juan Carlos was crowned King of Spain two days after Franco’s death in 1975. He abdicated in 2014, his son being crowned in his place and at time of writing is King of Spain. (Photo source: Internet)

Martyr-homage with images of the five resistance fighters executed by the Franco state on 27 September 1975, three of FRAP and two of ETA, the flags of the Spanish Republic of 1936 and the Basque Ikurrina beneath them. (Photo sourced: Internet)

It is important to note that unlike most of Europe, no part of this fascist ruling class was overthrown and, in fact, as a result of its appropriation of every section of the territory and state, it appropriated riches, industry, legal, media and educational institutions in addition to its political power. Many of those prominent in those fields today owe their positions to their fascist antecedents. The unbanning and incorporation of the PSOE and PCE parties, along with their respective trade unions into this cabal did little to change things for the regime and in fact the biggest change was the heavy contamination of the newcomers themselves.

Claiming that the only way to win is through peaceful resistance needs an explanation that is not forthcoming. Granted that the Spanish State will use violent resistance to its own violence as a justification for further attack but it has already attacked and continues to do so, classsifying peaceful resistance as “rebellion” and blaming the people for the violence of the police.

On the other hand, what can be the supposed benefit of an always peaceful resistance? That the Spanish state will cease out of feelings of guilt? That the police will be so ashamed they will stop beating and shooting at people? This is clearly not a belief justified by experience. What then? That the big powers in the EU will be so shocked that they will intervene? The Catalans have already had their reply on EU intervention and it is unreasonable to expect that to change.

The emphasis on peaceful and legal means and their trumpeted exclusivity in use is not only ahistorical and wrong with regard to the Catalan struggle (past and future) but lends itself to claims of Catalan exceptionalism and even to implicit criticism of the struggles of other nations (particularly within the Spanish state)9. This separation would not be to the advantage of the Catalan struggle, even in the mid-term.

SOME CONCLUSIONS

Critical mass

          The independist movement in Catalonia has achieved a majority: of numbers, of activists and of parliamentary deputies; however it cannot be said that the size of the majority is a comfortable one. Nevertheless, the unionist parties in Catalonia are vulnerable to loss of supporters if the independists can give them cause enough to cross over to their side, or at least remain in a position of friendly neutrality.

If in trying to win friends among the Catalan unionists the independists offer them concessions on independence or on what kind of a Catalan Republic they are going for, as some may well be tempted to do, they would certainly cut the ground (and grassroots) from under their own feet. What the independists can do instead is to improve social conditions for the working and lower middle classes, or at least to show that they seriously intend to do so. In that situation, many of the voting base of the unionist parties and in particular of Ciudadanos, will desert them, either to enjoy the relief they are being offered from unemployment, precarious work, high rents and evictions – or in rage at those who wish to prevent them availing of these benefits.

And of course the existing majority supporters among the independists will stand even more firmly with them, having evidence that they fight not only for principles and promises but for better social conditions for themselves and, in particular, for their children.

Leadership

          As noted earlier, the overtly political leadership of the independist movement is shared between two bourgeois political parties which are themselves coalitions. They are being urged on by a much smaller left-wing activist party which is also a coalition. The possibilities of fragmentation, of serious divisions about how to act in various situations must be considered high, particularly should the general situation become much more dangerous for the participants, as with a high level of Spanish police or army occupation (and the Guardia Civil are a militarised police force) of parts of Catalonia to exercise repression and State control.

The grassroots organisations of ANC and Omnium, though having lost their original leaders, have replaced them and certainly ANC is keeping the pressure on.

In the late 19th / early 20th Century James Connolly10 remarked that “only the working class remains as the true inheritors of Irish freedom.” He wrote this after pointing out that all other social classes in Ireland had something to gain from reaching an accommodation with British imperialism but that the working class, being a majority and not in a position to exploit anyone, had no interest or even possibility of gaining from selling out to imperialism (as the native Irish capitalist class did in his time and, arguably, has done since). Connolly’s statement is surely transferrable to Catalonia.

Monument to James Connolly in Dublin, the design of the Irish Citizen Army’s flag behind him. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

The organised workers of Catalonia therefore are not only a potentially strong force in the struggle for Catalonian independence, as evidenced by the October general strike’s success and its effect on the Spanish State – they are also the possible future leaders of the struggle, should they produce their own required leadership and organisational forms.

In such a situation, the independist movement will be in a much stronger position to call for support from workers elsewhere, whether in the Spanish state or beyond.

Other elements throughout the Spanish state may decide to a greater or lesser degree to join with Catalonian independence forces against the State — or at least to take advantage of the Spanish State being preoccupied with Catalonia — in order to advance their own issues, whether those be of nation, class or general disaffection.

Ideology & Preparation

          There is no possibility of the Spanish state agreeing to self-determination for Catalonia but it may be prepared to make some concessions on for example taxation levels, degree of autonomy, etc. Those kinds of offers may be attractive to some elements in the Catalan independist camp and they may reach out for them, at which point the possibility of serious fracture may occur. The greatest safeguard against this is the augmentation of the Left11 and the working class influence within the movement.

The spectre of fascism may be raised in order to intimidate independists against pressing their demands and, indeed, fascists have been seen at work already. They never went away in the Spanish state and the system readily creates new ones. Again, resolute defence and militant action by the working and lower middle classes are the greatest defence here. But in any case, the Spanish state is a very different one from that which it was in the 1930s. Raising mass Christian and fascist movements cannot so easily be achieved in this time.

Given the nature and history of the Spanish ruling class and what it stands to lose, hard repression is its most likely reaction. If we accept that this is so, then it would seem obvious that the independist movement should prepare itself, mentally and physically, for this kind of offensive. The problem is that such preparations could be used by the State to accelerate its offensive while at the same time frightening the less resolute leaders of the movement into distancing themselves from the firmer elements or even denouncing them. I cannot say at this point how this conundrum may be resolved, only that I feel that preparation is necessary. At the very least, the Catalan movement would benefit from studying anew its own history and that of other nations in similar situations.12

The emphasis on legality in resistance needs to end if the movement is to face up to the struggle ahead. Legality is a transient thing and what is legal one day can be illegal the next (and vice versa). In addition the Spanish State has demonstrated not only that it writes the laws but also that it is quite capable of breaking them, of perverting them and of giving them bizarre interpretations. The concept of legality needs to be totally replaced by that of justification and in that, the need of the Catalan people to manage their own affairs, along with their decisions and mobilisations are more than justification enough.

Likewise the constant reiteration that the resistance is pacific in nature and must remain so needs to cease and also the statements that by depending on this tactic alone, somehow, mysteriously, the cause will be won. In saying this I do not mean that the moment has arrived when aggressive force needs to be met with defensive force, only that it will arrive and that when it does, the movement needs to be as ready for it as can be and open to as little confusion and division as possible.

Mass mobilisation remains of great importance. There is a need to continue the work of the independist movement in the Parlament and in foreign relations with parties outside Catalonia. But it is not there that victory in essence lies and therefore care must be taken that what happens in that area does not overshadow or hold up the mobilisations of the mass of supporters of independence. Mass demonstrations, local pickets and rallies, festivals and general strikes remain of key importance now and in the phases of the struggle to come. It is in those forms that the people truly feel their strength, rather than in votes and Parlament motions, or even in laws passed, no matter how important all those may be. It is also in action and in reflection on action, that the people learn the most and the fastest the lessons of struggle that they need to learn in order to take power – and to retain it.

Barcelona barricade 1936 (Photo sourced: Internet)

 

 

End.

APPENDIX A: POLITICAL PARTIES BACKGROUND13

The Independists

JuntsxCat, on a popular vote share of 21.66%, returned 34 Deputies from the December 2017 elections. As noted earlier, it is an electoral platform, composed of people from civil society gathered around Carles Puigdemont but the core remains PDeCat (Partit Demòcrata Català), a right-wing neo-liberal party with a record of attacking workers and popular demonstrations. In addition, in CDC (Convergència Democràtica de Catalunya), PDeCat’s previous incarnation, its leader Pujol, was implicated in a corruption scandal, which was one of the reasons for the new name.

ERC gained 32 seats in the December 2017 elections for the Catalan Parlament out of 21.38% of the popular votes cast. A party with a long history, it recently formed a coalition with Catalonia Sí and other smaller groups and independents in order to stand in general elections and in 2012 it won 21 seats in the Catalan Parlament. In addition it has nine Deputies in the Spanish Parliament, the Cortes. A central part of the ERC’s aim is the independence of the Països Catalans from the Spanish and French states and it has representation in the Occitan Left party in Aragon.

CUP formed themselves from a network of social and environmental campaigners into a political platform to stand in General Elections only recently, in order to have a voice in Parlament. At their first General Election outing, in 2012, they gained three Deputies and in the 2015 elections, ten. Although in December 2017 their total fell to 4.46% of the popular vote and four Deputies in the Parlament, an opinion poll of some weeks ago predicted their trebling their number in the next elections. In 2015 the CUP were in a position to refuse to unite with PdeCat in the Parlament for independence under the Presidency of Artur Mas (who had been in office when Catalan police batoned left-wing demonstrators and fired rubber bullets at them, causing a number to lose an eye)14. They agreed to vote for his replacement, Carles Puigdemont, Mayor of Girona.

Both ERC and JuntsxCat have senior figures of their parties in jail and in exile while as yet, the CUP has none (but two are charged).

The Unionists

With 25.35% of the popular vote in the Catalan parliamentary elections of December 2017, Ciudadanos gained 36 Deputies, which makes it the largest single party in the Catalonian Parlament but without an overall majority. It is also the strongest voice against the Independists and claims to represent the “silent majority” of Catalans, many who are, according to Ciudadanos, descended from migrants and are happy to remain within the Spanish state. It is however, despite its unionist allies, outvoted by the total independist bloc.

Ciudadanos is a ten-year-old party which is often described as centre-right but in reality is much more right than centre and is moving further right in the Spanish state to overtake the PP, the largest right-wing party in the state. Though it describes itself as “post-nationalist” it is in fact a Spanish unionist party, makes its public speeches mostly in Spanish and upholds the Spanish state system, laws, symbols etc. In political declarations it tends to be populist.

The PSC, with 17 Deputies in the Catalan Parlament and 13.86% of the popular vote in the December 2017 elections, is the Catalan version of the PSOE, a social-democratic political party which was illegal under Franco, as was the affiliated UGT, one of the two main general trade unions in the Spanish state today. The legalisation of the PSOE and the UGT, along with the Communist Party (PCE) and its then associated trade union, Comisiones Obreras (CCOO) were hugely important steps in the Transición (from Franco to alleged democracy); they accepted — and exhorted their followers to accept – the 1978 Constitution and the imposed Monarchy.

The PSOE was in Government when it was heavily implicated in the running of kidnapping, torture, bombing and assassination squads (GAL and BVE) against the Basque independence movement in the 1980s. The PSOE is, at the time of writing, governing again in the Spanish state, having ousted the PP Government of Rajoy on a June 1st no-confidence motion with the supporting votes of Podemos, Catalan and Basque Deputies.

En Comú – Podem (Catalan version of Podemos but containing various alternative Left elements), took 7.46% of the vote in the December 2017 elections and has 8 Deputies in the Catalan Parlament. Podemos, a Spanish social-democratic party created only in 2014 during a wave of popular revulsion throughout the Spanish state at official corruption, political compliance, bank bailouts and rise in unemployment and household evictions, is the third largest political party in the Spanish Parliament but simultaneously very weak in large areas of the Spanish state; in Catalonia they had no Deputy elected from Girona or Lleida, one in Tarragona and the other seven in Barcelona. Although by its constitution and statements of its leader Pedro Iglesias the party upholds the right to self-determination of nations within the Spanish State, it always argues against it being enacted, proposing instead a Spanish Republic with autonomous regions and nations. For the Spanish Parliament the party has formed an alliance with the CP-trotskyist Izquierda Unida and the green environmentalist coalition of Equo. Although the Catalan party cannot be called “unionist” without qualification, it is generally found in opposition to the independist bloc.

The Partido Popular in Catalonia has fallen from 19 Deputies in 2012 to its lowest ever, with 4.24% of the popular vote and 4 Deputies in December 2017 (and only one Town Mayor in the whole of Catalonia); nevertheless it has been very outspoken against independence and against the measures taken by the independists. For the first time in its history, the party has insufficient Deputies to form its own group within the Parlament.

The Catalan PP is the local version of the Partido Popular, a very right-wing Spanish party organised by Franco supporters after the Dictator’s death. The PP has alternated in power in the Spanish State with the social-democratic PSOE (it was however journalists of the PP-orientated El Mundo daily newspaper which began the exposure of the GAL murder and assassination squads run by the PSOE). There is speculation that the PP will in future be overtaken by Ciudadanos as the main party of the governing Right in the Spanish state, or that Ciudadanos will become part of a right-wing coalition to do so.

APPENDIX B

Video with English subtitles on the 20th September 2017 Spanish police raids on Catalan Government buildings and attempted raid on the CUP’s headquarters in Barcelona, including rapid numerous and militant popular mobilisations:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=do5KQV5Qgow&feature=youtu.be

Video of History of Catalonia in 10 minutes with English subtitles: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v5lDYDPg2IA

 

Reference Links

Catalan economy statistics: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/oct/02/catalonia-important-spain-economy-greater-role-size

Rubber bullets used under the Artur Mas JuntxCat Government and then banned under the same Government: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/apr/30/catalonia-police-banned-rubber-bullets (includes video with testimonies of victims)

Catalan National Assemply (ANC) President Alisenda Paluzie interview: https://www.elnacional.cat/en/politics/paluzie-interview-catalan-republic_285975_102.html?utm_campaign=16f3fbb5ad-

Catalan Indpendence Referendum October 2017: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catalan_independence_referendum,_2017

Catalan Govern (“Regional”) elections Dec.2017 and Composition of Catalan Parliament: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catalan_regional_election,_2017

CUP seeking enaction of laws passed by Parlament but barred by Spanish court: https://www.elnacional.cat/en/politics/cup-parliament-rupture-laws_281886_102.html

Catalan Trade unions and Independist industrial action:

3rd October 2017 General Strike: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2017_Catalan_general_strike

8th November 2017 General Strike: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/catalonia-general-strike-catalan-roads-pro-independence-supporters-schools-traffic-jams-a8043596.html

Strains on Spanish unions by Catalan independism: http://progressivespain.com/2018/04/16/catalan-nationalism-divides-spains-labour-movement/#sthash.N9ilrYzU.dpbs

Spanish unionist unions losing members to Catalan independist union: http://www.elmundo.es/cataluna/2018/04/14/5ad0eaa6e5fdea1d088b45c2.html

Spanish unionist unions generally:

Major Spanish trade unions lose over half a million members 2009-2015: https://www.eurofound.europa.eu/observatories/eurwork/articles/industrial-relations/spain-huge-decline-in-trade-union-membership-post-crisis

Unemployment statistics for Andalucia: https://countryeconomy.com/labour-force-survey/spain-autonomous-communities/andalusia

Unemployment rate for Extremadura: https://countryeconomy.com/labour-force-survey/spain-autonomous-communities/extremaduraj

 

FOOTNOTES:

1That figure of 17.2% is achieved by putting the figures for the whole state together, areas of high and low before dividing to find the average. Were the unemployment statistics of the better-performing areas such as Catalonia, the southern Basque Country and Madrid removed, the average for the rest of the state would soar. For example, the average for Andalucia, in the south of the state, is given as 24.7%, reaching almost a quarter of the working-age population; for Extremadura, bordering Portugal in the south-west, it is even higher at 25.9% (see Links).

4Sanchez, for the Spanish Government, was quite clear that in moving them he was complying with the law that states that unconvicted prisoners must be detained near their family, friends and legal assistance. In making that announcement, he was attempting to head off expected denunciation from the Right that he was being soft on the Catalan prisoners; that criticism came anyway from Ciudadanos and PP, parties that state ad nauseum the importance of complying with Spanish law. Apart from the revealed fact that the previous Government of the PP was breaking the law in keeping the detainees in Madrid, the overall issue is that as they are unconvicted and surrendered themselves to the Spanish authorities, therefore there is no legally justifiable reason for refusing them bail. And of course they were wrongfully charged as criminals as criminals in the first place for pursuing self-determination, a course for which they had been authorised by a majority of the Catalonian electorate.

6The Basque Country has a number of these of which the main one is LAB, accounting for perhaps 15% of union membership in the southern Basque Country. When joined to the other main Basque but not class union, ELA, their members outnumber the combined membership there of the Spanish unions,UGT and CCOO. Galicia also has a leftwing independist union, the Confederación Sindical Gallega, outnumbering the combined Spanish unions in Galicia in membership and workplace representation.

8 Included measures were: emergency housing and household energy relief; protection against eviction from home; effective gender equality; climate change; universal health care coverage (i.e to include migrants); taxes on large commercial establishments, on stays in tourist establishments, sugared drinks and carbon dioxide emissions; liberalisation regarding cannabis associations.

9This was expressed in a letter proposed in anger by some ANC supporters to Der Spiegel, a German newspaper that had compared the Catalans to the Basques and also in an interview given by Clara Ponseti, of the ANC, Catalan ex-Minister for Education whose extradition is being sought currently by the Spanish State.

10James Connolly (1868-1916), born and raised in the Irish diaspora community of Edinburgh; he became a revolutionary socialist, founder of the Irish Socialist Republican Party and of the Irish Labour Party, trade union organiser, historian, journalist, writer and one of the leaders of the Irish Citizen Army (“the first workers’ army” according to one historian). He led the ICA into insurrection alongside the Irish Volunteers and the Republican women’s and youth organisations and was shot by British firing squad along with the other six Signatories of the Proclamation of Independence.

11Not that the Left is itself immune to fragmentation, by any means!

12 In the latter regard, I’d very much advocate a study of the Irish independence movement from say 1845 to 1923.

13 Most details in this section are taken from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catalan_independence_referendum,_2017 and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catalan_regional_election,_2017) but discussed with Catalan independists, who corrected a number of statements on Wikipedia.