We publish here a statement by the International Marxist Tendency, along with a series of reports from Arturo Rodriguez in Barcelona about the rapidly developing mass movement for a Catalan independence referendum and against state repression.
We publish here a statement by the International Marxist Tendency about the crisis in Spain. The Catalan independence referendum challenges the Spanish 1978 regime. It has been met with heavy state repression on the part of the Spanish state. The IMT supports the Catalan people’s right to self-determination. For a Catalan Socialist Republic as a spark to the Iberian revolution!
For a Catalan Socialist Republic as a spark for the Iberian revolution!
- The decision of the Catalan Parliament to call for a referendum on independence on 1st October has opened the most serious constitutional crisis Spain has seen since the restoration of bourgeois democracy in 1977. Repression from the Spanish state and the Rajoy government in Madrid has provoked a mass movement in the streets which has acquired some insurrectionary features.
- The move towards convening a referendum on self-determination comes after years in which the Spanish state and the right-wing government of Rajoy have blocked all attempts by Catalonia to decide on its own future. The 2006 Catalan Constitution (Estatut), whose contents had already been watered down by the Spanish parliament, was ratified in a referendum, only to be then blocked by the Spanish Constitutional Court at the request of the right-wing Popular Party. Finally, the Constitutional Tribunal declared some of the Estatut’s key articles as unconstitutional. 35 separate laws passed by the Catalan Parliament were deemed illegal by the Constitutional Court.
- In 2011-15 Catalonia was part of the wave of mass movements against austerity cuts which questioned the legitimacy of all the institutions of bourgeois democracy in Spain. At that time, the Catalan bourgeois nationalist CiU was in power in Catalonia, with Artur Mas as president, and was most enthusiastic in implementing cuts in health care, education and other social expenditure, with the full support of the right-wing PP. In 2011, tens of thousands surrounded the Catalan Parliament in an attempt to prevent an austerity budget from being passed. Members of Parliament had to be brought in by helicopter. The CiU government responded with brutal repression. The party was also mired in a series of corruption scandals which still linger on.
- Faced with this situation, Catalan president Mas decided to put himself at the head of the sovereignty movement in order to save himself and his political party. The Catalan pro-independence movement acquired a mass base (with millions of people demonstrating each year on Catalan National Day) but with a leadership made up of right-wing bourgeois nationalists.
- On the other side of the conflict, the ruling PP in Madrid, also mired in corruption scandals and carrying out a policy of repression and cuts, calculated that whipping up reactionary Spanish nationalism would be a vote winner.
- Large layers in Catalan society looked towards the possibility of Podemos coming to power in Spain and changing the whole situation. In successive Spanish elections, a Podemos-led coalition came first in Catalonia. However, as Podemos failed to win power in the Spanish parliament, the mood for independence as a solution to the problems of austerity, cuts and lack of democracy, inevitably grew. The percentage of those supporting independence went up from around 10-15% to nearly 50%.
- The character of the movement is thus contradictory, with an opportunistic leadership in the Catalan bourgeois nationalist party PDECAT (the new incarnation of CiU, after a split and a change in leadership), but a mass rank and file which is inspired mostly by a rejection of the reactionary Spanish regime, the suppression of Catalan rights represented by the Rajoy government, the Army, the Monarchy, etc.
- The Spanish regime which exists today goes back to the Constitution of 1978. At that time, in order to prevent the growing revolutionary movement of workers and youth against the Franco dictatorship from coming to power, the old regime reached an agreement with the leaders of the workers’ parties, notably Santiago Carrillo of the Communist Party and Felipe Gonzalez of the Socialist Party. This pact, known as the “Transition” was a betrayal of the genuine aspirations of the workers for democracy and social revolution. It provided for impunity for the crimes of the Franco regime whose state apparatus was preserved, the imposition of the Monarchy and the Spanish flag (both symbols of the Franco regime) and the denial of the right of self-determination for the oppressed nationalities. Article 2 of the 1978 Constitution talks about the “indivisible unity of the Spanish nation”, which another article makes clear will be “guaranteed by the Armed Forces”.
- For the reactionary Spanish ruling class, which was never able to achieve the full unification of the nation on progressive grounds but resorted to brutal and naked repression, the exercise of the right of self-determination is seen, correctly, as a threat to the whole edifice of the 1978 regime. This explains the reaction of the Spanish state to the Catalan referendum.
- The gamble of the Catalan right-wing bourgeois nationalist PDECAT was always a dangerous one, but for a period allowed it to remain in power, by roping the left nationalist ERC and then even the anti-capitalist pro-independence CUP into supporting their government, with the promise that a referendum on self-determination would be called.
- In 2014 the Spanish state banned a referendum on self-determination, which then became a non-binding consultation. In response to the banning of the referendum, the Catalan government then called a snap election in 2015 which was presented as a plebiscite on independence. The pro-independence parties won an overall majority of seats, but with 48.8% of the votes, a fraction short of an overall majority of the votes.
- Finally, on September 6, 2017, with the votes of the pro-independence bloc, the abstention of CSQP (the Catalan coalition between PODEMOS and United Left) and the absence of all other parties which had walked out, the Catalan Parliament passed a law to convene a referendum on independence on October 1. The Parliament took this decision in the full knowledge that this was a challenge to Spanish law.
- Within a few hours, the Constitutional Tribunal suspended the law, pending a review on its constitutionality. That was the beginning of an offensive of repression by the Spanish state aimed at preventing the referendum from taking place.
- The Catalan parliament speakers have been indicted for allowing the tabling of the referendum law, public meetings outside Catalonia in support of the referendum have been cancelled at the instruction of the judges, over 700 Catalan local mayors have been summoned for declaring they would help organise the referendum (and threatened with arrest if they don’t comply), the members of the newly appointed Catalan electoral body have been slapped with fines of €12,000 a day, 14 high ranking Catalan officials have been arrested by the Civil Guard in their homes or on their way to work and have been indicted, the finances of the Catalan government have been seized by the Spanish state, print shops have been searched, the media have been banned from broadcasting referendum publicity, referendum websites have been closed down and mirrors hosted abroad blocked, activists flyposting for the referendum have been arrested and their materials seized, ballot papers have been seized, etc. This is the most sustained assault on basic democratic rights in Spain for forty years (perhaps equal to the assault on the democratic rights of the Basque people and organisations).
- This brutal reaction on the part of the Spanish state against the wishes of the Catalan people to hold a referendum on their future (a right which is supported by over 70% of the population) reveals the deeply reactionary nature of the 1978 regime and its limits as far as democratic rights are concerned.
- The repression has seriously compromised the holding of the referendum, but at the same time it has provoked a massive backlash in the streets. On September 20, tens of thousands surrounded the Catalan Department of Economy as it was being searched by the Civil Guard police. The Civil Guard was unable to leave the building for over 20 hours, and could do so only in the early hours of the following day, as the crowd had thinned and with the help of Catalan riot police.
- On the same day, thousands resisted an attempt by the police to search the headquarters of the anti-capitalist pro-independence CUP, and managed to prevent it. In Reus, after harassment of activists while fly posting, over a thousand people turned up for a mass flyposting session which the police could do nothing about. Mass semi-spontaneous demonstrations have been taking place in towns and cities across Catalonia.
- The state repression has now generated a dynamic in which the initiative belongs to the streets. Referendum Defence Committees have started to spring up in neighbourhoods and towns. The dockers in Barcelona and Tarragona have voted to block cruise liners which are hosting thousands of police officers drafted into Catalonia to prevent the referendum. The universities are on an all out strike and the students have occupied the main building in the Universitat de Barcelona. The main unions CCOO and UGT have issued statements against repression, but a number of smaller unions (CGT, COS, IAC) have actually called for a general strike in Catalonia on October 3 (the first date it could be called because of the trade union laws).
- The Spanish ruling class has unleashed a mass movement on the streets which threatens not only the stability of the Rajoy government but also opens up serious cracks in the edifice of the 1978 regime. However, they cannot retreat. They have to restore the rule of law, as they see it. Any concessions before October 1 would spell the end of the PP government. They have now opened a case for “sedition” against the organisers of the September 20 mass movement and have taken over command of the Catalan police, the Mossos. Stripped of its access to its own finances and its control of public order, there is very little left of Catalan autonomy (self-rule).
- The Catalan bourgeois nationalists have unleashed a mass movement which terrifies them. However, now they cannot retreat nor enter into negotiations which would be seen as a sell out by the movement and probably would spell the end of their government.
- It is the duty of revolutionary Marxists, and indeed of all consistent democrats, to fully support the Catalan referendum of October 1, which is only the exercise of the basic democratic right of self-determination.
- We must warn however, that in the context of Spain, the exercise of the right of self-determination has revolutionary implications and can only be imposed by revolutionary means. The Catalan bourgeois nationalists cannot be trusted to do so. It is only the mobilisation of the people in the streets that can guarantee the celebration of the October 1 referendum. The working class has a crucial role to play.
- The only way forward now is for the spreading of the Referendum Defence Committees to every neighbourhood, school, university and workplace to deal with the basic logistical aspects of the organisation of the referendum and its defence in the face of the Spanish state and its forces of repression. Such Defence Committees should link up at local, county and national level through elected representatives. As the Spanish state moves slowly but surely to smash Catalan self-government, a National Assembly of representatives from the Committees should be convened as a legitimate representative of the Catalan people.
- The comrades from the CUP have advanced many of these slogans (for a general strike, for the setting up of Defence Committees, the need for mass mobilisation), and for that they should be commended. In the past they have taken decisions, which we considered mistaken, in giving support to the formation of the Puigdemont government and voting its austerity budget. We encourage them to break decisively with that policy of class collaboration. The struggle for a Catalan Republic cannot be won unless there is a clear break with the Catalan bourgeois nationalists which will never go to the end. As the comrades of the CUP say, we must brush them all aside (bankers, capitalists, corrupt politicians, regardless of whether they dress in Catalan or Spanish nationalist robes).
- The struggle for self-determination cannot be won without winning to our side the majority of the working class. In Catalonia many workers speak Spanish as their main language and identify in one degree or another as Spanish. They are naturally wary of a movement led by the bourgeois nationalists of the PDECAT which have been implementing austerity, cuts and represent the interests of the capitalist class. The struggle for a Catalan Republic must be linked to the struggle against capitalist austerity, for jobs, healthcare, education and workers’ rights.
- That would also be the best way of winning over the support of the workers from the rest of Spain, which would contribute to weakening the repressive apparatus of the Spanish state. There have already been significant demonstrations in support of the right of self-determination of Catalonia and in defence of democratic rights in Madrid, Andalusia, the Basque Country and elsewhere.
- Podemos and United Left have a great responsibility. They have done a great job in defending the right of self-determination. However, when faced with the October 1 referendum they have retreated. Using legalistic excuses they have refused to support it and instead advocate a “negotiated referendum”, something which is utopian, as the Spanish ruling class has already made it clear it is not prepared to concede. Instead, they should give full support to the October 1 referendum (whatever its shortcomings) as it represents the most serious challenge ever to the 1978 regime. They should explain that the struggle of the Catalan people is also the struggle of the workers throughout Spain, against the Monarchy, the reactionary PP government, and the reactionary state apparatus inherited intact from the Franco regime, and that anything which weakens the Spanish state should be welcomed, given support and used to strengthen the position of the working class.
- The Catalan organisation of Podemos, PODEM, has taken a brave decision, supported by the majority of its members, to support the October 1 referendum and to call for maximum participation. This has won them a lot of sympathy and support amongst the left wing of the independence movement. There is a growing convergence between the left, anti-capitalist wing of the independence movement and the political expression of the “indignados” movement. That is the basis for a struggle for a Catalan Republic which represents a clear break with austerity policies, something which can only be done by breaking with capitalism and moving in the direction of a socialist transformation of society.
- The International Marxist Tendency declares its full support for the right of self-determination of the Catalan people and the October 1 referendum. A vote YES is a vote against the 1978 regime. Our slogan is that of a Catalan Socialist Republic which should serve as a spark for revolutionary change across the Iberian Peninsula.
For the right of self-determination of the Catalan people!
Defend the 1st October referendum by revolutionary means!
Mass mobilisation in the streets. Defence committees everywhere. General strike!
Down with the repression of the Spanish state – down with the 1978 regime!
For a Catalan Socialist Republic!
For the Iberian Revolution!
We publish below a series of three reports written by Arturo Rodriguez in Barcelona over the past week. The situation is changing rapidly – not just hour-by-hour, but even day-by-day.
Mass rallies all over Catalonia
This morning [Sunday, 24th September], there were mass rallies all over Catalonia. The one in Barcelona was attended by thousands of people. This is significant, because this weekend is the Mercè festivity, which is a very important holiday and one would not expect big demonstrations.
In the pageants and concerts of the celebrations there were spontaneous shouts of “we shall vote!” and “independence!” In the rallies printers were set up on the squares to produce electoral propaganda (which has been a major target of police operations).
A million ballots were handed out today (several million ballots have been requisitioned by the police so far). Big postering teams, previously the object of arrests, have been organised and there are streets that are entirely papered over with pro-referendum posters and banners.
The main plank of the propaganda now focuses overwhelmingly on freedom, democracy, the republic, and also questions of social justice and social change. Nationalist themes like language, culture, history, etc. have virtually disappeared. Even Barcelona en Comú, the electoral bloc of Barcelona’s mayor Ada Colau, and one of the left-wing forces that were most lukewarm towards the referendum, is now also putting up posters against repression and for participation in the vote.
In the evening, there was a big assembly at the occupied university building on feminism and the emancipation of women in the new republic, which was attended by several hundred. The occupation is dominated by pro-independence youth organisations aligned to the CUP and to the left ERC.
The call for a general strike is intensifying. The Catalan branch of Podemos launched an appeal to the big trade union federations, CCOO and UGT, to join the strike movement on October 3. Then call for a general strike has become a key element in the propaganda of the CUP. At the same time, Catalan vice president Junqueras, from the centre-left ERC, made an appeal to Spanish democrats to fight for the rights of the Catalans and to seize this opportunity to struggle for political change in the rest of Spain, exclaiming “long live democratic Spain!”
Events and consciousness are moving fast. One produces a leaflet in the morning based on the boldest demands and perspectives for the movement, and by the evening those demands and perspectives have become mainstream. An incident I witnessed the other day illustrates the situation: comrade Paolo Tomaselli and I overheard a discussion by some elderly women (far from steeled militants), who were asking where is the EU in this crisis. Paolo retorted that we should expect nothing from the EU, that they’d treat Catalonia like they had treated Greece in 2015. Far from rejecting this argument, they said “Yes! They’ll do the same thing! We can only trust our own forces!”
As the mass movement gains traction on the streets and the masses are emboldened, the Generalitat is losing the ground under its feet. The right-wing PDeCAT party has signed a declaration for a “legal” referendum and has made some ambiguous remarks about unilateral secession after October 1. They are looking for a way to backtrack, but are facing enormous pressure from below. The Mossos (the Catalan police) are being pressed to accept the command of the Spanish Civil Guard. They have affirmed they will follow the orders of the Spanish judiciary, but will not submit to a new, centralised command. This was a stupid provocation on the part of the state, and it would be wise for it to backtrack.
There have been important developments in the rest of Spain also. Podemos has spearheaded an “assembly of parliamentarians” (modelled on a precedent from 1917), which gathered today in Zaragoza to demand a “legal” referendum for Catalonia and the fall of Rajoy. Pablo Iglesias, who has been very critical of the unilateral referendum, is now calling for the government to “let the Catalan people speak on October 1”. The assembly has been seconded not only by Podemos, the United Left, and their local allies, but also by the Basque right-wing nationalist PNV, and the Catalan nationalists also sent representatives. The PSOE was invited, but did not participate. The socialists are under a lot of pressure, especially their Catalan branch, the PSC, which has opposed (verbally) the repression against the referendum in very harsh terms.
It must be remembered that the PP minority government is the product of a very unstable pact between the right-wing Ciudadanos and the PSOE (a controversial decision which split the latter down the middle). The government has also relied heavily on the right-wing Basque nationalists of the PNV, who are now also under a lot of pressure to break any collaboration with Rajoy and support the cause of the Catalans.
The assembly ended with an unpleasant incident, when the building was surrounded by some 300-500 far-right protesters who were blocking the exit of the delegates. The police did nothing to stop them, and the delegates left on their own while being booed and harried by the fascists. Podemos and the United Left said this is the consequence of the lack of police, which has all been deployed in Catalonia. This is a false argument: it was a calculated move by the state, which frequently connives with right-wing mobs against the left.
They way to combat these aggressions is not to call for the police to protect them, but to organise their own self-defence bodies by mobilising their followers. The CUP was able to stop a police raid on their offices on September 20 by mobilising their sympathisers en masse (which can far outnumber the right-wingers or the police), and Podemos should do the same thing!
Committees in defence of the referendum are spreading
Yesterday morning [Friday 22nd September] thousands of students from the University of Barcelona, whose staff and students are staging an indefinite general strike, occupied the institution’s historic building in the city centre in opposition to repression and in defence of the referendum.
The protesters from Friday’s rallies for the release of political prisoners slept in front of the Supreme Court. Significantly, Committees in defence of the referendum are springing up in numerous neighbourhoods, universities, and towns. Yesterday evening, there was also a mass rally of the CUP in Sabadell, attended by several thousand people. I haven’t been to any rallies by the centre-left ERC or the conservative PDeCAT, but I doubt they can fill to the brim a big square in a provincial town like Sabadell.
The best speech by far was by the keynote, Anna Gabriel, who spoke of the need to give the Republic a revolutionary, working-class character, of developing the network of defence committees to fight repression, and of building up for a general strike on October 3 (so far seconded by important unions like the CGT). She clearly stated that October 1 was not an act of protest, but a binding referendum, and if the Yes vote wins the republic will have to be declared immediately. She also threw the gauntlet to Podemos and the Spanish left, saying that the state is irreformable, that all talk of future pacts is unrealistic, and that they should back a binding, unilateral referendum.
At night, there was another big, deafening pot-banging protest. The government has continued to concentrate police and Civil Guards in Catalonia. The Generalitat is being undermined and disorganised by the blows of the state. The task now is to spread and coordinate the committees movement on an all-Catalan level and turn it into a fortress of the referendum, against repression and against the wavering and the weakness of the Catalan government.
Note: This morning (Saturday, 23rd September), the central government tried to subordinate the Mossos d’Esquadra, the Catalan regional police (which is very powerful and is in charge of most policing in Catalonia, including counter-terror operations, to a centralised command led by a general from the Civil Guard, which was to oversee all operations related to stopping the referendum. The Catalan government has refused, and so has the command of the Mossos, calling this a violation of Catalan autonomy.
We will see how this develops. Clearly, this was a stupid move by the state, because the Mossos had thus far collaborated (albeit dragging their feet) with the repression, giving it a less unpleasant colouring in the eyes of the masses. This is a provocation that will generate tensions within the state apparatus and help politicise the Catalan police, and it will radicalise the masses further. What will happen if the police receive contradictory commands by the Civil Guard and by the Generalitat, both posing as their superiors?
Situation in Catalonia accelerating
The situation in Catalonia keeps accelerating. This morning [Thursday 21st September], students and staff at the universities walked out and staged a rally attended by 5,000, and at many schools classes have been cancelled. University staff and student unions have declared for an indefinite general strike.
At noon, tens of thousands gathered at the seat of the Supreme Court in Barcelona to demand the release of those arrested yesterday. Many students were there, and also groups of workers, like the firefighters, who came in their uniforms, and who had staged a protest in the morning at their station. Other rallies took place in the afternoon and in other Catalan towns and cities.
The calls for a general strike are gaining traction, and important unions like the CGT or the CSC, and IAC, which are influential in important sectors, have declared in favour of a strike (although the big federations UGT and CCOO have not). The dockworkers are boycotting the police ships.
In the evening, I attended a neighbourhood defence committee at Poble Sec. Around eighty people showed up. The discussion was very interesting. It went from the need to form pickets and organise “caceroladas” (pots and pans protests) to combat repression, large groups to go and put up posters (a dangerous activity these days), to create information networks to ensure a rapid mass response to repression, to map all polling centres in the area for the referendum and to prepare pickets to defend them, to reach out to other neighbourhoods, to create a fighting fund, etc.
A woman summed up the whole thing: October 1 (the date of the referendum) starts today. Interestingly, the composition was mostly working class and there were no Catalan flags present, only banners for independence and for the republic, and the whole discussion revolved around fighting repression and making sure the referendum goes ahead.
At night there was a protest across the city banging pots and pans and honking with cars. It was truly impressive (I attach a video taken from my place – my phone is terrible and doesn’t do credit to the event, but it was impressive).
After Wednesday’s events, the rhetoric of the Spanish government and its allies has changed. Now they are willing to offer concessions if the Catalan government calls off the referendum. They literally state that now only Catalan president Puigdemont can solve the problem, while browbeating the Catalan government for bringing out “their followers” onto their streets.
The truth is that the acts of repression on Wednesday have got the ball rolling; they have sparked a mass movement that has overwhelmed both the central state and the Catalan government. One does not simply crack down on fifty thousand protesters: the police had to beat a retreat from the CUP headquarters when they tried to raid them, and abandoned the besieged Civil Guards to their own fate in the Conselleria building.
Now they are desperately clutching at Puigdemont to try to save the day, but he is no longer fully in control of the situation, the masses have taken the lead: a mass that is determined to vote on 1st October and declare the republic on 2nd October. Repression has only given the referendum a more democratic and less nationalistic allure and expanded its base of support. In fact, the arrests on Wednesday targeted second-rate figures. According to “legality”, the state should have arrested president Puigdemont and vice-president Junqueras and their cabinet, but they are aware that this would provoke an all-out insurrection.
The state is facing a dilemma. It may try to use repression again, but this would only enrage the masses further. But, then again, showing weakness only emboldens the masses further.