(Translation D.Breatnach from Publico report 12 May 2021)
ERC, JxCat and the CUP parties reached a “minimum” agreement this Wednesday to unravel the investiture negotiations to avoid an electoral repetition after the results of the elections on February 14th in Catalonia. The deadline for investing the President of the Generalitat is May 26 (after that new elections would need to be called — DB).
After two hours of meeting in the Parliament, the three organisations issued a joint statement that to promote an “overall National Agreement for Self-determination” and a “space for the debate on the independence strategy beyond governance.”
After the meeting, the Deputy General Secretary and ERC spokesperson, Marta Vilalta, the JxCat Deputy Francesc Dalmases and the leading spokesperson of the CUP in the Catalan Chamber, Eulàlia Reguant, came out together.
Formation of a new Government
The act of separating the debate on the independence strategy from the formation of a new Government was one of the obstacles that prevented the agreement, JxCat until now requiring ERC to link both items.
Although the wording of the statement is ambiguous on this point, it already aims to unlink the creation of a unitary strategic direction of independence from the negotiation for governance, which was threatened recently by the disagreements between ERC and JxCat.
Relations were very strained last Saturday, when the ERC candidate for the investiture, Pere Aragonès, announced that he would no longer continue negotiating a coalition government with JxCat, which he accusef of delaying the negotiation, and that from now on only he would contemplate ruling alone.
In the joint communiqué, entitled “Commitment to a National Agreement for Self-determination”, the three formations emphasize that the results of the 14 February elections “offer the independence movement the possibility of opening a new cycle for national liberation.”
Four “minimum points”
The negotiators have agreed on four “minimum points” based on a proposal that the CUP, convener of the summit in Parliament, had put on the table, in which it has become a mediator to facilitate a rapprochement of positions between ERC and JxCat.
In the first point, they undertake to “provide a response to the social and economic crisis” that Catalonia is experiencing, while in the second they commit to “build a wall to defend fundamental and basic rights that have broad support from Catalan society and which do not fit within the framework of the State “.
Third, they commit to convening a first working meeting to configure “an Overall National Agreement for Self-determination, to go beyond political parties and to bring together the broad social majority of the country in favour” of a referendum.
“With the unequivocal commitment that through dialogue and democratic struggle in the (Spanish) State the exercise of self-determination and amnesty can be achieved during the next legislature,” they added.
Finally, they are committed to “reaching a space for the debate on the independence strategy beyond the framework of governance.” This last paragraph modifies – and adds ambiguity – the fourth point proposed by the draft of the CUP, which suggested “placing the debate on the independence strategy outside the framework of the government pact.”
Unraveling the negotiations
Sources with inside knowledge of the meeting indicated to Efe (news agency) that the meeting was positive in moving forward, although it is too early to say if it will be enough for ERC and JxCat to get back on track to an agreement that in recent days had been difficult.
For his part, the leader of the PSC in Parliament, Salvador Illa, asked ERC to “lift the cordon sanitaire” that he raised against the social democrats before the 14 February elections and to facilitate a left-wing majority led by the PSC. “I challenge them: with the failed independence path not working, at least let a left-wing government be constructed and lift the cordon sanitaire that they signed against the PSC,” he said on a visit to Mataró (Barcelona).
The leader of En Comú Podem in Parliament, Jéssica Albiach, insisted in TV3 that for them “they continue to” attempt to form a Government with ERC, although she also declared the possibility of facilitating Esquerra to govern alone.
The president of Citizens in Parliament, Carlos Carrizosa, rejected the idea of new elections if the Government is not formed because he believes that it would reflect a “lack of respect” for citizens.
For her part, the president of the Catalan National Assembly, Elisenda Paluzie, demanded an agreement from ERC, JxCat and the CUP to form the Government and called a demonstration for this Sunday in Plaça Sant Jaume in Barcelona to demand a pact between them.
ERC (Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya – Republican Left of Catalonia), republican party of a left outlook varying from radical to social-democratic. Its leader, MEP Oriol Junqueras, is in jail arising out the Spanish State’s opposition to the holding of the Referendum of October 2017. The party has 32 seats in the Parlament.
JuntsXCat (Junts per Catalunya – Together for Catalunya), a coalition of forces originally brought together by liberal conservatives but pushing hard for independence and more lately adopting many socially progressive policies. It leader, MEP Carles Puigdemont, is en exile in Brussels to avoid Spanish jail, along with others. The party has 33 seats in the Parlament.
CUP (Canditatura d’Unitad Popular – People’s United Candidature) is a more radically left-wing coalition of groups that until recently focused on local democracy than on national politics but is completely in favour of independence from the Spanish State. One of its leading activists, Anna Gabriel, is also in exile to avoid Spanish jail. CUP now has nine seats in the Parlament
ERC and JuntsXCat have 65 seats between them which give them a comfortable enough parliamentary working majority in the 135-seat Parlament and with CUP’s nine seats, could defeat a vote of no confidence even if the social-democratic (but unionist) PCE (33) and Comu Podems (8 — a local version of Podemos) supported a vote of no confidence by the right-wing parties of Ciutadans (6), Vox (11) and PP (3).
ANC (Asamblea Nacional de Catalunya – National Assembly of Catalonia) is a huge grass-roots pro-independence organisation which pushed for the Referendum in the 2017, organised massive demonstrations for independence and participated in organising a number of one-day general strikes of protest in and since 2017. Its former leader Jordi Sanchez is an MP but is also in jail along with another grass-roots movement leader, Jordi Cuixart of Omnium Cultural.
What is at stake here is not merely a power struggle between one independentist political party and its leader and another party and its leader, but also a division over tactics and perhaps even strategy. Puigdemont of JuntsXCat led all the independentist parties and, in a sense, the whole united t movement through the Referendum, Spanish police invasion and violence and as far as declaring a republic – but then blinked and a few minutes later suspended that declaration.
Apparently he had been promised by ‘friends’ in the EU that if he suspended the declaration, they would come in and put pressure on the Spanish State. Predictably, I would say, they didn’t come through on that, Spanish State repression followed and Puigdemont went into exile.
Since the repression, ERC has been insisting they need to sit down and talk with the Spanish Government, which is a coalition of the social democratic PSOE and the radical social-democratic and trotskyist alliance of Unidas Podemos. However, the Prime Minister, Pedro Sanchez, has stated unequivocally that although he wants to talk, he will not be discussing holding a government-authorised referendum on independence for Catalonia nor the freeing of the political prisoners arising out of the last Referendum. They also voted in the Spanish Parliament to support the Government getting its budget approved, thereby helping to keep it in power.
Naturally enough, much of this has raised suspicions that ERC was preparing a sellout and even those who did not necessarily suspect that were exclaiming, since independence referendum and prisoner freedom is ruled out: “Talks with the Spanish Government about what?”
Despite Puigdemont’s faulty judgement at the time of declaring the Republic, he continues to have a lot of support in the independentist movement. However his insistence and therefore that of JuntsXCat that the forum for discussing and deciding independence strategy has to be the Consell per la República (Council for tge Republic) has caused a lot of trouble within the movement for Catalan independence. The Consell was formed as a private organisation by Puigdemont in Barcelona and in Brussels and, while in the latter sense it is out of the reach of the Spanish State, it is also out of any democratic control from within Catalonia, which ERC has pointed out as its reason for not agreeing to that measure.
The current agreement has bridged the gap temporarily and avoided the parties having to go into other elections for the second time this year, purely for the reason that the two main parties of the movement cannot agree with one another on the way forward. And momentum, the loss of which can be fatal for revolutionary movements, can hopefully start gathering force again. But there are likely to be further disagreements ahead. Which must be pretty depressing for the ordinary activists and supporters in a movement that has come so far so quickly and then stalled, while a number of people went to jail and over 700 town mayors are awaiting processing by the Spanish courts.
On the other hand, the role of mediator played by the CUP has no doubt enhanced their standing in the eyes of pro-independence Catalonia.
Conspiracy theorists get laughed at which, since some of the theories are indeed laughable, seems fair enough. Conspiracy deniers, on the other hand, get an easy time of it, which is a pity – because there are conspiracies going on. All of the time.
Then there’s simple convergence of interests, which give rise to conspiracies but can also operate independently.
A current example of convergence of interests: The EU and all its constituent governments decide that the struggle between Catalonia and the Spanish State is an internal matter for the Spanish ruling class and can they please sort it out without dragging most of Europe into the mess? In fact, if they don’t sort it out, it endangers a number of key players in the EU and, inevitably, the EU itself.
As the current President of the EU Commission, Jean-Claude Junker reminded everyone on the question of Catalonian independence in 2017, there are member states of the EU other than the Spanish one that are vulnerable to the same kind of ‘problem’, i.e that of a bid for separation and independence of some part (or parts) of the state in question.
And if we look at Europe outside the Spanish State, we can see what he might have meant. There’s the French state, which contains within it three provinces out of the seven of the Basque Country, a part of Catalonia, also Brittany, Occitania and Corsica. Each of those regions was at one time an independent kingdom or part of a kingdom other than that of France; each also has its own language and each has struggled against French domination at some time or other.
Italy is a state with huge differences between its north and south, a composite of many different parts that did not come under one state rule even formally until 1871, at which time the spoken language of one region could hardly be understood in another. And there is Sardinia, still with its own language and currently engaged in another struggle for independence.
The UK is in the process of ceasing to become part of the EU now but it is still a part of the pattern of alliances (and hostilities) that forms part of modern Europe. And the UK contains the Six Counties of Northern Ireland, not long out of the three-decades guerrilla war, also Scotland with a strong popular movement for independence. In addition the Celtic nation of Wales was subjugated but still has a strong language movement and there are some stirrings of nationalism in the Celtic nation of Cornwall.
Belgium is a united state but containing the French-speaking Waloons and the Dutch-speaking Flemish and, although both languages are officially recognised, as polities, the two groups don’t get on very well together.
Even the separation of Catalonia from the Spanish State’s territory on its own would be bad enough from the point of view of EU leaders – but it could also precipitate the separation of the four southern Basque provinces, also of Galicia and Asturies. Which would certainly attract the interest of the southern regions of the French state.
In summary then, a successful bid for independence by Catalonia would start an “infection” (which is what Borrell, the Spanish Foreign Minister to the EU called Catalan independentism) which has the potential to cause the breakup of a number of major and medium states of the EU. And Junker also said that he didn’t want “an EU of ninety-nine states”. Of course not, such a union would be very difficult for the big European states to dominate and, in fact, those same European states would not be so big any more.
Conspiracy? Probably not – just convergence of interests. The ruling elites would have no need to get together, decide what they wanted their politicians to do, then have their various ministers sit down, formulate the policy of each state, have the foreign ministers of each get together and then inform the managers of the EU. The politicians have been trained and schooled, they know in general what their ruling elites want, without having to be told. They would react to Catalonian independence almost instinctively – with rejection. They view nationalism and independence, if it breaks up a rival power (such as the Eastern Bloc), as a good thing – but not in their own group!
THE USA IRAN-CONTRA CONSPIRACY
However, conspiracies do indeed happen, of course they do – and often. We have just passed by the anniversary of a key point in one huge one, the point when the “Iran-Contra” scandal began to break, in early November 1986. And President Reagan of the USA said that “the speculation that the US has sold arms to Iran has no foundation”, which was of course a lie. Basically, the US sold arms to the fundamentalist theocratic regime in Iran but, due to a US Congress embargo on such exports there, had to do it through Israel. They did so for two reasons, one for money to fund a military terrorist campaign against the government of Nicaragua which the US Congress would not approve, second in order to seduce the Iranian military (as they have done with the Egyptian military) and having them overthrow the Iranian regime. And the US wanted the Nicaraguan revolutionary government overthrown because it was not aligning itself with US foreign policy in what the USA considers its back yard (and a major source of raw materials) and also because a successful state of the type which Nicaragua was (then) would provide a ‘bad example’ to the other states of Latin America.
The Israeli Zionist ruling elite went for the deal because they too hoped the Iranian military would overthrow the theocratic regime and bring Iran back under the western-imperialist umbrella, as it once had been so secure that the CIA had its HQ for the whole Middle East located right there (and got caught with its pants down, or its secret documents in the process of shredding). And besides, the USA is the No.1 supporter of the Israeli Zionist regime in the world (another example of convergence of interests).
But despite the convergence of interests between the ruling elites of the USA and Israel, along with former Nicaraguan military, right-wing groups (for terrorist personnel) and US client regimes such as Honduras (for Contra bases) and Panama (for drug money to also fund the Contras, apparently through the CIA to sell in California – another conspiracy theory), a conspiracy was necessary to execute the operation. This was because of the unusual nature of the arms deal, its illegality according to US (and presumably Israeli) law and the number of partners involved. And the silent complicity of the US mass media was necessary, at least until a CIA plane delivering weapons was shot down by Nicaraguan forces over their territory and an operative, Eugene Hasenfus, captured alive.
A COMMON KIND OF CONSPIRACY
Another example of conspiracy is that of price-fixing between big companies on given products. There have been a number of these exposed over the years. A conspiracy is necessary in this case because normally, the interest of big companies is to increase their share of the market over that of the competition. But at times, they perceive that it is in their joint interests to cease cutting one another’s throats and to regulate the prices of their products by agreement among themselves. Not only is this illegal in most administrations but it runs counter to the philosophy of capitalism, i.e that competition, instead of the cooperation advocated by socialists, is good for society. The fact that price-fixing is out of the norm of capitalism requires coming to formal agreement between the participants and the fact that it is illegal and undermines capitalist propaganda, requires secrecy – hence conspiracy.
However, most of what goes on in the world when government or other reactionary elements cooperate is probably just the result of convergence of interests, easily recognised by the participants.
A CONVERGENCE OF VERY DIFFERENT INTERESTS
Generally speaking, it is when their partnerships are put under pressure that the established convergence begins to crack; when one partner or another decides that the price of remaining in it is too high or that it’s time for sauve qui peut (everyone for himself). What can achieve that level of pressure is another kind of convergence of interests, that of the masses of wage-earners, small business people, peasants and indigenous people, recognising that by acting together, they can overthrow the existing system and set up an alternative that corresponds to their needs.
The Diada, national day of Catalan identity and of resistance was celebrated in Dublin’s Merrion Square on Saturday 7th September with traditional food, drink, games and music. Catalan independentist flags and banners were also on display as were portrait placards of Catalan political prisoners of the Spanish State.
The Diada Nacional de Catalunya (Diada for short) is the National Day of Catalonia, a one-day event celebrated annually on the 11th of September. It commemorates the fall of Barcelona during the War of the Spanish Succession in 1714, which resulted in Catalonia’s institutions and legal system being abolished and coming under the domination of the Spanish crown.
The Army of Catalonia backed the Habsburg claim to the Spanish throne, believing thereby that Cataloni’s national autonomy would be respected. However, the army of the Bourbon King Philip V of Spain was successful and Barcelona fell after a siege of 14 moths.
It Diada first began to be celebrated in 1888 and gained in popularity over succeeding year and in 1923 was a mass event with events all over Catalonia. However clashes with the Spanish police resulted in 12 protesters and five police being wounded and a number of arrests. Primo Rivera’s dictatorship banned it but during the 2nd Spanish Republic (1931-1939) the Catalan Generalitat (Government) made it an institutional festival. With the fall of Catalonia to the military-fascist forces of Franco and others, it was banned and celebrated only in people’s homes.
The first renewed public celebration of the festival was in 1976, following the death of Franco the preceding year and in 1977 was the occasion for a huge demonstration demanding independence for Catalonia and in 1980 was made official by the Generalitat.
With the renewed growing push for Catalan independence, the day has been the occasion for huge demonstrations demanding self-determination. For some years now the ANC (National Assembly of Catalonia), which claims to be the largest grass-roots organisation not only in Catalonia but in the world, has been the main organiser of the Diada and has used it as part of its mobilisation for indpendence (which presumably is the reason the Spanish State has put its former President, Jordi Sanchez, on trial on charges of sedition and rebellion and in detention since 2017, the verdict expected this month or next.
Although the Diada commemorates a crushing defeat for Catalan self-determination, its celebration has become an occasion of re-affirmation of that desire, a public sign of resistance. Massive demonstrations once again have been held and, as in Dublin, expatriate and Catalan diaspora communities around much of the world have celebrated it publicly this year, particularly in Europe but also in Latin America and in the USA.
Merrion Square, a public park in the Dublin city centre, was the venue for the Diada event organised by Catalans in the Irish branch of the ANC and by Dublin CDR (Comite de Defensa de la Republica) on a the 7th, which was a Saturday.
The area was decked out with estelladas (Catalan independence flags) and placards bearing portraits of the Catalan political prisoners (see following section on the Situation in Catalonia). Parents attended with their children and games were played with them as well as a traditional Catalan game being available for adults and a few engaged in a version of the poc fada Irish activity with camáin (hurley sticks).
Traditional food and drink was provided also. Commenting on the event, a spokesperson for the organisers said:
“We had a festive and family-oriented Diada (National Catalan Day) in Dublin. We also publicised a call for freedom for the political prisoners and the right of self-determination for Catalonia.”
SUMMARY OF SITUATION IN CATALONIA
The Catalan Parliament has twice passed a number of legal measures which have been judged “unconstitutional” by the Spanish Court and therefore cancelled. These included:
Increased taxes on large companies
a “sugar tax” on sweet soft drinks
ban on bullfighting
access to public medical care for migrants
ban on evictions and high rents
The growing push for Catalan self-determination found expression in a number of growing public events and in October 2017 a referendum was held. The Spanish State banned the referendum and its police raided the Government offices and other places for ballot boxes. On the day of the Referendum, October 1st, Spanish police attacked voters and referendum supporters with a reported nearly one thousand seeking medical attention. They also fired rubber bullets, which are banned in Catalonia, at peaceful demonstrators.
The Catalan right-wing anti-independence parties had called for a boycott of the referendum and many ballots were confiscated by the Spanish police. The majority of those available gave a high majority for an independent Catalonian republic (there were no other options other than “No”).
The then President Puigdemont, backed by the pro-independence majority in the Catalan Parliament, acting on their mandate, in 2017 declared an independent Catalan Republic but immediately suspended it, urged by EU advisers to seek talks with Madrid (which he reflects now was a mistake).
Subsequently the Spanish State prorogued the Catalan Parliament until new elections were held and also charged a number of politicians and social activists with sedition, rebellion and misuse of public funds (allegedly to fund the Referendum). Some, like Puigdemont, went into exile and others to jail without bail; their trial is now over and the verdict is expected later this month or next. In addition, numbers of secondary school teachers have been called to testify because of their responses to the questions of pupils about the Referendum and the destruction to their schools by police and around 700 town mayors are also called to testify for allegedly facilitating the Referendum.
The elections forced by the Spanish State returned a broad political backing for Catalan independence from right to left which finds expression in a number of coalition parties (Junts per Catalonia, Esquerra Republican and Candidatura d’Unidad Popular), opposedby a substantial but minority hard-right unionist oppositioncoalition too (mostly Ciudadanos). The coalition based on the Catalan version of Podemos also has seats but its actual position on independence is not easy to define.
Since then, the Spanish State elections and the European elections have also returned pro-independence candidates but EU senior officials blocked Catalan MEPs who are in exile from taking their seats and another is in Spanish jail, awaiting a verdict.
Catalan press story translated and comment by Diarmuid Breatnach
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) condemned Turkey for keeping a Kurdish elected Deputy in preventive detention (i.e custody without bail — Translator) without “sufficient” reasons. The seven magistrates of Strasbourg who signed the judgment made public on Tuesday urged the Turkish state to release Selahattin Demirtas, who when he was arrested was co-president of the People’s Democratic Party (HDP).
The court also considers that the inability of the former leader to participate in parliamentary activity despite being an elected Deputy constituted an “unjustified” interference with freedom of expression and the right to be elected and occupy a seat in Parliament. The left party HDP reacted by calling on the local courts of the country to implement the decision “immediately” and not only get Demirtas out of prison but also the rest of the Deputies in jail.
In a statement, the HDP recalls that Demirtas has been a “hostage” for two years and demands that he be released “without delay.” The party sees the decision as a “precedent” for all those elected and highlights the “determination” of those who “do not abandon the struggle for democracy and peace” in their country.
VIOLATION OF THE EUROPEAN CONVENTION ON HUMAN RIGHTS
The ECHR claims that several articles of the European Convention on Human Rights were violated, such as the right of all detainees to be taken “without delay” before a judge and to be judged within a “reasonable” period or be released during the proceedings (article 5.3) and the right to free elections (Additional Protocol, article 3).
“The Court concludes that the extension of the period of pretrial detention has been established beyond a reasonable doubt, especially during two crucial campaigns, the referendum and the presidential elections, with the ulterior purpose of stifling pluralism and limiting the freedom of a political debate”, the text sets out.
Overall, Strasbourg not only directs the Turkish state to release him but also to compensate Demirtas with 10,000 euros for non-financial damages, in addition to the 250,000 requested by the politician. “The court notes that the violation of the agreement has unquestionably caused substantial damage to the plaintiff,” said the ruling. In addition, it ordered the Turkish State to pay 15,000 euro in legal expenses.
REACTIONS TO THE JUDGEMENT
Amnesty International, an NGO for human rights where Demirtas, who is a lawyer, also collaborated, has released a communiqué in which he recalls that Turkey is one of the 49 member states of the Council of Europe and that, therefore, the decision of the ECHR It is “binding”.
The Director of Research and Strategy of AI forTurkey, Andrew Gardner, assures that the judgement with regard to the opposition leader “exposes” the Turkish judicial system and points out that “it should have great implications” in the country presided over by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. “Civil society activists remain on a regular basis for long periods in pretrial detention under fabricated accusations,” he laments, highlighting the “influence” of the policy in Turkish courts. According to Gardner, in Ankara “peaceful” expressions of political dissidents are “punished” through the courts.
For his part, the ERC MEP Jordi Solé sees in the ruling a “precedent” for states that “abuse” preventive detention and “violate” political rights. In this regard, the parliamentarian believes that “it will have to be taken into account in the case of the Catalan independence leaders.”
“European justice does not allow prison to be abused as an instrument to restrict freedom and political pluralism or to violate the procedural, civil and political rights of citizens, and the Spanish state should take note,” he said in a statement.
Though certainly the judgement is to be welcomed by all supporters of human and civil rights, observers and commentators would do well to exercise more caution with regard to the impact of this judgement. Certainly other political parties can quote it with regard to elected deputies detained while awaiting trial and may indeed succeed in their endeavour. But the judgement specifically mentioned an elected Deputy and electoral campaigns. Therefore there are a great number of political prisoners to whom this judgement does not necessarily apply and, in the Catalan case, one would be concerned for example about the cases of the jailed leaders of the grass-roots organisations Jordi Sanchez and Jordi Cuixart.
In addition, the judgement did not say how long would be a “justified” period to keep a prisoner in jail before bringing him to trial. This prisoner, according to his party the HDP, was kept in prison for two years but it does not automatically follow that a period of that length will always be considered “unreasonable”. Should it be so there are a great many prisoners who have waited that long for a sentence while in custody in Europe, including in Ireland and the Basque Country.
It is of course a welcome precedent of a kind, as the Catalan MEP said but whether it will have the effect he believes is something else.
What is particularly interesting in this case is the speed (for the ECHR) with which the case reached the Strasbourg Court for judgement and in which judgement was given, if indeed it all took place within a period of two years, since many cases have taken much longer. For example, Martxelo Otxamendi, Director of the Basque-language newspaper Egunkaria wrongfully banned by the Spanish State, who was tortured in 2003 during the five-day incomunicado period routinely applied to those accused of anything to do with “terrorism” (sic), took five years to exhaust his options in the courts of the Spanish State (usually a requirement before presenting the case in Strasbourg) but it took another four years before judgement was finally delivered by the ECHR in 2012 (and even then the Spanish State was only penalised for failure to investigate the allegation of torture, since the ECHR judged that the torture itself could not be proven).
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.
Another spectre is haunting Europe – the spectre of an EU state’s fragmentation and the possible disintegration of the EU itself. It may begin with the breakup of a European state but could ultimately affect most of southern, south-eastern and south-western Europe.
A street demonstration in Barcelona on Catalunya’s national day filled the streets with an incredible number (over one million according even to the police) and awash with the “Estelades”, the Catalan revolutionary flag of the Senyeraestelada from the 1930s with the blue triangle enclosing a white star, in homage to Cuba and Puerto Rico (see video link below). From above, apart from the flags, the demonstration appeared lime-green as participants wore T-shirts of that colour with the Sí (“yes”) for independence printed on them.
The demonstrators formed a huge “X” in the city to signify a “yes” vote for independence and somewhere near the middle, three human towers put their topmost members displaying a clenched fist in the universal sign of resistance to oppression.
The political crisis surrounding the current bid for a referendum on independence for Catalunya (their nation in Catalan) serious consequences for the Spanish state but as the crisis matures may also deeply affect two other European states: France and Italy.
As the Parlement of Catalunya has now declared by majority that it will defy the Spanish State and hold a referendum on independence from the Spanish state on October 1st, the Spanish ruling class grows increasingly desperate and
Had its Constitutional Court declare the referendum unconstitutional and illegal,
Has the paramilitary police force, the Guardia Civil, searching for ballot boxes with the intention of confiscating them,
Summoned 700 town Mayors to answer to charges of facilitating an illegal referendum by allowing their council buildings to be used as polling stations
Threatened to charge Parlament pro-independendists with disobedience and abuse of power
Closed down the official Catalan referendum website
It also demanded weekly accounts on expenditure from the Parlament to try and ensure it was not funding the referendum.
In response, the leader of the Parlement says the Spanish can arrest him if they want but he is going ahead with the referendum. Many among the 700 town Mayors of Catalunya have said they will not attend court while others have said they will as they believe they have done nothing wrong. Many organisations and institutions have offered their premises as polling stations if necessary. Hundreds of Catalans have volunteered to help organise the referendum and to staff the polling stations.
To many observers, it will seem that the actions of the Spanish state are hysterical and excessive. On the other hand, to those who understand the history and nature of the Spanish state, it is hard to see how the Spanish ruling class can concede Catalan independence. That is on ideological and political grounds alone; and if those grounds were not enough, there are also the financial, economic and territorial ones.
“SPAIN: UNITARY, GREAT AND FREE”
The fascist Spanish slogan: “Espaňa – Una, Grande y Libre”, the claim that their state is unitary as well as “Great and Free”, explains in part the problem for the Spanish ruling class in a Catalonian secession. The creation of the Spanish kingdom was based on alliances for war against the Moorish Iberian kingdom of El Andalus, that religiously-tolerant kingdom of great learning and culture and it brought all other Iberian kingdoms under its rule. Subsequently, the Spanish Kingdom forced Christianity on the Jews or expelled them (creating the Sephardic Jewish refugees) as they did also not only to the defeated Moors of El Andalus but also to those other Arabs who had fought as allies of the Christian Royals. In later years the Spanish Empire lost conquered territory abroad but never gave any up on the Iberian Peninsula since the breakaway of the Kingdom of Portugal in 1143.
Unlike most of Europe, there was no successful revolution against the feudal system in the Spanish state, which retarded its economic and political development. However, the revenue from the kingdom’s exploitation of its vast territories in America kept the State powerful (while also acting as a negative counterbalance against the development of its industry).
SPANISH CIVIL WAR AND INVASION
Modernising and liberalising movements did struggle for change within the State but the First Spanish Republic only lasted under two years (11 February to 29 December 1874). The Second Republic (1931-1939) went through a right-wing repressive phase but then turned to a liberal-socialist phase, at which point the Army mutinied under the leadership of the Four Generals, of which Franco became the best-known.
The Second Republic conceded autonomy to Catalunya and Galicia and later, perhaps reluctantly, to the southern Basque Country (excluding Nafarroa/ Navarra, where the reactionary Christian-monarchist Carlists seized control and sided with the military insurgency). Aided by German Nazi and Italian fascist air transport, war material and troops, as well as by the complicity of Britain and France, the military defeated the Second Spanish Republic after a fierce struggle and a Christian-fascist dictatorship under General Franco took over the country.1
All claims to separate nationhoods were suppressed, all the nations being considered merely “regions” of the Spanish state, with picturesque traditional costumes and feasts. Castillian (Spanish) was to be the only language permitted in use, with particular repression inflicted on those of the strongest and most widely-used tongues, Catalan and Euskera (Basque).
Armed resistance of a guerrilla-type continued for awhile after the end of the Civil War/ Anti-Fascist War, and in the 1960s the Basque left-nationalist group ETA commenced armed struggle after nearly a decade of persecution by the Spanish State. For a while too there was an armed group in Catalunya.
After the death of Franco in 1975, the Spanish ruling class, under internal pressure from the Christian technocrat movement Opus Dei and external pressure from the USA, attempted a modernising and liberalising change of regime which is now widely referred to as the “transition to democracy” (sic) or just plainly as La Transición.
As part of this process, the Monarchy was re-imposed on the people when Juan Carlos de Borbón, who had been groomed by Franco, was declared King of Spain in 1975 and also named as Franco’s successor. No vote was held on the reimposition of a King on the Spanish state which had been without a reigning monarch for 34 years. A Constitution was drawn up which included the Spanish state being a constitutional monarchy and with much talk of democracy and changes, including regional autonomy, the Constitution gained 88% votes in favour. Among the 22% negative votes were the majority of the southern Basque Country.
After Juan Carlos’ abdication in June 2014, Juan Carlos’ son Felipe VI was declared King, a majority of the representatives in the Cortes (Spanish Parliament) voting to approve — which included not only the hard right-wing Partido Popular (PP) but also the helpful abstention of the social-democratic Partido Socialista Obrero (PSOE).
THAT WAS THEN – BUT NOW?
After Franco’s death, Catalunya was created an “autonomous region” and was ruled by a right-wing majority in the Parlament2; nevertheless struggles with the Spanish State have broken out from time to time, in particular about the use of the Catalan language and the primacy which Catalans, both right and left-wing, wish it have in Catalunya.
Another bone of contention has been the disparity between the tax revenue the Spanish state gains from Catalunya, on the one hand, and the funding the Spanish state gives to the autonomous region.
Some years ago the Parlement declared their intention of holding a referendum on independence but the Government and the Spanish National Court declared that this would be illegal, going against the Constitution (the same thing happened in the Basque Country). In addition, an Army General declared that the Constitution could be enforced with tanks, if necessary. The Spanish Government, although distancing itself from the General’s comments, did not have him disciplined.
Every year since then has seen large national demonstrations for Catalan independence, including a huge human chain in 2003.
The historic ideological and political grounds, as noted earlier in passing, are not the only ones which make the surrender of Catalonia unthinkable for the Spanish ruling class. In terms of population (2016 figures), Catalunya’s 7,522,596 is 2nd in size for a region within the State and 16% of the State’s total. Catalunya’s land area of 32,108 km (12,397sq.mi) is 6.5% of the Spanish State’s Iberian land mass. But even worse, from the Spanish ruling class’ perspective, is that 23% of the state’s industry is in Catalunya, and in 2013 the region’s product was 203.62 billion euros (¢228 billion), according to the Public Diplomacy Council of Catalonia — about 20 percent of the Spanish state’s 2013 GDP of 1.04 trillion euros (¢1.17 trillion) and 25% of its exports.
And should the regions of the wider Paisos Catalans (“Catalan Countries), i.e Valencia, Balearic Islands, Rosello and Andorra, join Catalunya in independence, the Spanish state stands to lose 13% of its land mass and a huge part of its coastline and islands, along with 28% of its population.
THE SIGNS BLOWING IN THE WIND
It is not today or yesterday that this crisis began maturing – it’s been coming for a long time. The Spanish ruling class, for the most part, knows only one way to respond to pressure – and that’s to push back. If they can. And since they run the State ….
The much vaunted Transición after Franco was merely a change of clothes for the State and the ruling class. They hated the change but felt forced into it. First they had to legalise the hated social-democratic party, the PSOE and its trade unions, the Comisiones Obreras. Then they had to legalise the Partido Communista and their union, the UGT (over some objections, including that of the PSOE). But if those elements continued to oppose them, they couldn’t carry through their conjuring trick of becoming a “democracy”. So they ruling class legalised them and they were not let down by their new partners: collusion and collaboration was the order of the day, by both parties and their associated trade unions, right up to the present.
Then they had to gain the complicity of the local capitalist and middle classes of the imprisoned nations and in particular of the Basques and the Catalans. Regional autonomy was the obvious answer (and they took the precaution of splitting the southern Basque Country into two autonomous regions, under different political control) and, with the former opposition leaders of the PSOE and PCE batting for them, they passed the new Constitution with a majority (everywhere but in the Basque Country).
But enough! What is the matter with those Basques and Catalans? Will they never be happy to just be part of the “united, Christian and free” State? Apparently not. So no more concessions. Time to squeeze now, as their fathers mothers and grandfathers had done before them!
Last year they Spanish state tried to push the primacy of the Spanish language on to the Catalan education curriculum. Much of the Catalan political class and the teaching professions resisted – they already included Spanish as an official language along with Catalan (and Occitan and Catalan sign-language); what is it with those espaňolistas?
In 2015 the Catalans put together a right-left nationalist coalition for the elections, asking the electorate to vote on the issue of independence and, despite the opposition of the new Spanish populist party Podemos and the Izquierda Unida3, took 48% of the vote. In the Spanish State as a whole, the election results gave no party an overall majority and in fact resulted in the most fragmented results since 1977 during the Transición.
The 2016 elections made the PP the winners but without an overall majority (and later subject to corruption charges), saw a fall in the vote of the Podemos-Izquierda Unida vote and a crisis within the PSOE, which took the lowest vote of its existence. And the IMF demanded further austerity measures in the economy.
But Catalonia was simmering. After the 2015 elections, the financial services company JP Morgan predicted, in a research note following the vote, that the “conflict between Catalonia and the central government will not lose intensity. … In our view, a material offer to reframe the role of Catalonia within the national state … is needed to soften the rising radicalism in the pro-secession camp and restore the premises for a more constructive approach.”(see link below).
The ruling class in the Spanish state does not do “reframing” or “softening” very well. Unreformed and slightly-altered fascists who have corrupted their possible moderate partners4, they feel more at ease with the iron fist than the velvet glove.
Its threats and other measures cannot be carried out in time to prevent the referendum going ahead on October first. The town Mayors cannot be put on trial in time, much less convicted. The referendum site the State closed down has now shifted to a server outside the control of the Government. The Guardia Civil can disrupt the voting and seize ballot boxes but that will escalate the crisis even further, not to mention present a terrible picture of Spanish “democracy” to the world. The ballot box, after all, is the Holy Grail of the bourgeois democratic system.
BREAKUP OF THE SPANISH STATE?
The Spanish state has long been the one in Europe most vulnerable to fragmentation. It includes regions which are actually distinct nations, of which Catalunya is only one, with their separate cultures and languages.
Euskal Herria, the Basque Country, has four provinces within the State’s borders and the native language is not even close to Castillian (Spanish) – in fact, unlike most others in Europe, it does not even belong to the Indo-European group of languages. A long struggle for independence has been taking place there too, with hundreds of political prisoners as a result serving time in jails across the the State. We can be sure that the Basques are watching developments in Catalunya with bated breath. The combined population of the two Basque autonomous regions exceed 2.83 million.
The nearly 1.5 million people of the Asturies region (Asturias in Castillian) consider themselves Celts and although their native vernacular is a Latin-based language, it is different from Castillian Spanish. More significant perhaps than the linguistic and musical difference with the “Spanish” is the history of resistance: their mining communities rose up against employers and the Spanish State during the early days of the Second Spanish Republic, the then Government of which sent General Franco to repress them (including shaving the hair of women supporters of the strike). In the Spanish Civil War the Asturians fought against the military-fascist uprising, rose up again in resistance against the victorious Franco regime and in very recent times fought against the closure of mines and miners’ unemployment.
Galicia is also a region of Celtic ancestry within the State with a well-developed traditional culture of music and dance and also has its own language, Gallego (56% speaking it as their first language) as well of course as Castillian. There is a movement for independence in Galicia which, although not major, is significant nevertheless and has its own trade union. The population is over 2,718,000.
Other regions with distinct languages and movements for independence from the Spanish state to one degree or another include Cantabria, Leon, Cadiz, Murcia, Andalucía and even Aragon and Castille, the two medieval kingdoms that led the defeat of the Moorish kingdom of El Andalus and went on to form the heart of the Kingdom of Spain. In addition, many of these regions or nations are contiguous to one another.
POSSIBLE EFFECTS ON EUROPE OUTSIDE THE SPANISH STATE
A rash of state break-ups followed the fall of the Soviet Union and it is not impossible that Catalonian independence could have a similar effect.
A part of the Catalan nation is inside French territory, although it holds only 1% of the population of the French state. More seriously for the French state are the other nationalities which might also take into their heads to secede.
The three Basque provinces, for example, are connected by culture, ethnicity and to an extent ideology with the other four Basque provinces on the southern side of the Spanish border. Biarritz and Bayonne are the main towns and the total area of the three provinces is 2,869 km², with a low-density population of 295,970.
Brittany,with 4.23% of the total territory of the French state (excluding its colonies), is a Celtic nation within the state, with a national language of Breton (related to Welsh). The population of the nation is 4,550,400. Brest, Saint-Nazaire, Nant
The Langue D’Oc area has a population of 3,650,000 people (as of 1999 census), 52% of these in the Languedoc-Roussillonrégion, 35% in the Mid-Pyrénées région, 8% in the Rhone-Alpesrégion, and 5% in theAuvergnerégion. Although this area is no longer administered as a province, it has a historical and cultural (including linguistic) identity, with Toulouse widely recognised as its capital.
Then there is Corsica, speaking Corse and never entirely reconciled to being a part of France. The Mediterranean island is not strong economically nor large in population (330,000) but it does occupy a position of strategic importance between France and Italy and near both the larger islands of the Italian state.
What makes the scenario of a wide range of independence-seeking of nations within the French state more painful to contemplate for that State is that many of those nations are contiguous to one another, forming a wide swathe from east to west across the southern bart of the present state and taking in much of its seaboard on the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. It also potentially wipes out its border with the Spanish state, forcing all land traffic to pass through a number of other states before reaching either Spain or France.
What we know today as Italy was a mass of provinces and city states that were united finally only in 1871 (some date it to 1918), after a period of many uprisings and wars. Already in Italy today there is a huge difference between the industrial north and the agricultural south with its unemployment and poverty, a difference so great that some have described the regions as two different countries.
And there is Sicily, the largest island in the Mediterranean, whose people have long thought of themselves as different to the rest of Italy and in particular the north. The population of Sicily is 5,048,553 (8.3% of the total of the Italian state), the majority of them speaking Siciliano, a separate language to Italian. Sicily also has a huge diaspora.
The second-largest Mediterranean island is Sardinia, where languages different to Italian are spoken and whose people have always considered themselves distinct from Italy. The population there is 1,650,003. a relatively low figure out of a total for the State of 60.5 million; nevertheless this island too is of strategic importance.
The United Kingdom cannot be left out of consideration either. Scotland already has its own Parliament and a somewhat different legal system to that of England & Wales but that has not totally satisfied Scottish nationalist aspirations. Other Celtic nations within the UK include Wales and Cornwall and of course the 6-County colony in Ireland, the scene of a 30-year war against British rule less than two decades ago.
Of course, the effects will not be felt only on European multi-nation states. An ongoing conflict with Catalunya, with the addition of perhaps other national struggles within the state, allied to internal struggles against evictions and austerity, in an atmosphere of financial scandals, could bring the state down. The Spanish State is an important NATO ally in terms of bases and strategic location. Even if it did not collapse, the instability arising out of a state of siege in two significant areas of the statewould be great and ripples – or perhaps giant waves — would reach throughout Europe.
WILL IT COME TO THAT?
No-one can answer that question for sure. The Spanish state is determined to prevent Catalonian independence and the majority Catalan political class have already gone beyond where many expected them to in resistance. They have stated that if the necessary majority votes “Sí” to independence, that they will move immediately to give effect to that decision. In addition, the political class for independence is acting with huge popular support and there are signs of independent popular mobilisation – the last time that happened on a major scale in Catalunya was during the 2nd Spanish Republic when there was popular socialist and anarchist workers’ uprising.
If the people push the issue against Spanish intransigence, it is hard to see how it can end in any way but in armed conflict – street resistance against Spanish repression with tanks, soldiers and the paramilitary Guardia Civil. The Mossos d’Escuadra, the 16,800-plus repressive police under the Catalan autonomous region’s council, the Generalitat, might split. Urban and rural municipal Catalunyan police are likely to retire from the conflict or to side with the Catalan resistance.
The population of the rest of the Spanish state might then stand back and watch …. or uprisings could break out in other areas, including left-wing working class areas of Madrid suffering austerity and where the Spanish ruling parties are seen as corrupt and in league with the bankers against the people.
Could the rulers of the EU afford to stand back in such a scenario? Would their own populations allow them a free hand to intervene, or not?
We live in interesting times that might, contrary to the Chinese curse, have very beneficial outcomes.
3 A Communist Party-Trotskyist alliance, often fragmenting and shifting; it is generally despised by the rest of the Left within the State and by the pro-independence parties, the latter because the IU is always against national independence, calling instead for “the unity of the Spanish working class.”
4 It was the social-democratic PSOE government that ran the GAL assassination squads against the Basque pro-independence movement, carrying out operations of both sides of the French border. Carrillo, leader of the Communist Party who took it through the Transición, was expelled from his party after his collusion with Spanish fascists and coup plotters was exposed.
(Translator’s note: These events were preceded by a number of apparently Muslim extremists driving a car into crowds in the Ramblas on Thursday, which left thirteen dead and 100 wounded, and also in Cambrils on Friday, killing one person and wounding six. A number of suspects were also killed by police).
The first act in the events was that fascist organizations like the Falange, National Democracy or Plataforma per Catalunya (Platform for Catalonia) had called people to demonstrate in the Rambla against what they described as the “Islamisation of Europe”.
A response quickly followed with the call for a counter-demonstration of community groups of Ciutat Vella (the old city) and anti-fascist organizations, under the slogan “no pasarán” (Translator: “They shall not pass!” — originally a famous slogan from the defence of Madrid during the anti-fascist resistance war of 1936-1939).
A very violent clash could have occurred, were it not for the relative proportions of those participating.
On the seaward side of the Boqueria plaza there were between two and three hundred antifascists, of all ages, national and ethnic backgrounds, who condemned the terrorism of Islamic State and the fascism of the extreme right. On the mountain side, no more than a score of people nostalgic for past fascist regimes and a boy of no more than twenty years arguing that under Franco one did not live so poorly.
With these proportions, very soon the fascists found themselves cornered by the antifascists, who limited themselves to shouting a number of slogans such as “Nazis no!”, “The streets will always be ours!”, “Let there be not even one!” or “Fascists get out of our neighborhoods!”
Among the Islamophobes and those nostalgic for previous fascist regimes, the most conciliatory of them said that the problem is that “The outsiders come, they place a bomb and do the savagery they did yesterday, because we fight among ourselves.” Others simply shouted “A Christian Spain and never Muslim!”, “No more mosques, please!” and “Spain forever!”.
Among the demonstrators were Manuel Canduela, leader of National Democracy and known face of the Spanish extreme right. Among the anti-fascist demonstrators, CUP elected members Mireia Boya and Mireia Vehí.
There were moments of tension and violence. For example, when a fascist attempted to assault a group of anti-fascists, the latter responded by throwing plastic bottles, lighters and even some eggs. The Mossos d’Esquadra (Translator note: Catalonia government police infamous for violence against Left and Catalan independist demonstrators) and the Urban Guard intervened to protect the right-wingers. The cops protecting fascists outnumbered the fascists they were protecting – by at least two to one.
Little by little, the handful of fascists left the place, escorted by the police, contemplating the failure of their call. In the end there was only one man left, around the age of forty, wearing a Spanish Army T-shirt, leather waistcoat, many tattoos and an aromatic small cigar (Trans: ? ”un aromatico purito”). “I am neither a Nazi nor racist: I am Spanish,” he argued.
A Muslim girl, in a bandana, opposed his arguments against “the Islamization of Europe”.