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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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).
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.
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 independistsamounted 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
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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:
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.
8Included 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.
English Prince Harry Windsor and his bride Meaghan were in Ireland this week and were shown around Dublin.
“Ah yeah, this is where we fought yez in 1171 ….
“Our people were banned from the city for a while after that. Yes, security … quite ….
In 1366 yez got in a strop wit yer own people for starting to talk Irish, wearing Irish clothes, playing Irish games …. Called them ‘the degenerate English’ … said they’d become ‘more Irish than the Irish themselves.’ Yes, a few of them got hung.
There’s where some of our chieftains’ sons escaped your jail in 1592 after you took them hostage — some never escaped of course, ha, ha and their heads remained on spikes. Yes, a bit gruesome.
Then in the 1640s again because yer people wouldn’t change their religion (nor us, as it happens). Yes, old Oliver. I know, your family’s not too fond of him either ….
Yes, Trinity College, founded by yer own Queen Elizabeth. What, no, bless me, not her Majesty now — the first one! Well, to educate yer people here in the Protestant faith because they were being sent off to Catholic countries to be educated.
Just down the hill there’s where yez arrested the Leinster Directorate of the United irishmen in 1798. No, mostly Protestants …
And the bridges there, where yez hung a lot of their followers, putting their bodies in Croppies’ Acre afterwards, just across the river there. No, not a graveyard as such — a mass grave, just a hole in the ground. There are quite a few songs about that period. Yes, still sung today.
And across the road there is where the irish Parliament was — well, Anglicans only — abolished to precede the Act of Union in 1801. Yes, that was when all of Ireland became part of the UK.
….. Back up there, Robert Emmet was hung and beheaded two years later …. Yes, there is a song about that too.
Ah yes, and just down from the Castle, which was yer Headquarters, is where the The United Irishman newspaper was suppressed in 1848 and its editors and writers sent to Australia and Tasmania. No, not for a holiday — as convicts.
Now, across the river … Worker killed there during the 1913 Lockout and many injured by police the day after too. Oh, it lasted about eight months. Yes, it is a long time, your Highness. But they had some help from England. Oh, not from the Government, not at all, bless your Highness. From British trade unionists. Yes, a few songs about that Lockout also. Yes, we are very musical, thank you.
Oh yes, Bachelor’s Walk Massacre over there, 1914 …. No, nothing to do with stag parties — though sometimes …. No, not by the IRA — by the Scottish Borderers, British Army.
1916 Rising fighting post there …. there …. over there to the East …. further back there to the west…. and south …. and there. Yes, fourteen executed in the Kilmainham Gaol Museum …. no, it wasn’t a museum at the time … Oh, many, many songs …
Now, over there was where Kevin Barry was hung … Yes, there is a song about that as well, your Highness.
One of the RIC G-men shot there by our people… and another over there … Ah, the RIC? Well, sort of like yer PSNI up north now …
Civil War, yes, 1922 -’23. Yes, Collins was glad of yer cannons for that.
Dublin Bombings …. yes, in 1974. The IRA? No, bless me, not at all! Yer own intelligence service and loyal allies. Yes, it was …. biggest number of deaths in one day during the whole recent 30 years war. No, strangely, not one arrest ……
No, the British Embassy’s not in the City Centre anymore, Your Royal Highness Meaghan …. not since 1972. Well it got burned. No, not accidentally — a big crowd burned it after Bloody Sunday up in Derry, you know, when 14 were killed by your father-in-law’s regiment ….