Jorge Martin discusses the latest events and developments in Catalonia, where Puigdemont – the Catalan President – has delayed announcing the formation of an independent republic, under pressure from bourgeois public opinion. But the situation is not resolved, as there is still a counter-acting pressure of the masses from below and the repressive Spanish regime to contend with.
It seemed as if everything had been decided in advance. Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, was going to go to the Catalan Parliament and announce the formation of an independent republic, as he was bound to do by the results of the 1 Oct referendum.
That would be followed by the suspension of Catalan autonomy on the part of the Spanish state, which had declared the referendum illegal, and perhaps even the arrest of the Catalan government members for rebellion. In the end the clash was delayed, but probably not averted.
In the days leading up to the Tuesday 10th October session of the Catalan parliament, president Puigdemont had come under intense pressure from bourgeois public opinion. The Catalan bosses’ organisations (united in their opposition to independence) had told them in no uncertain terms, in public and behind closed doors, that he should not take any further steps towards independence.
This almost unanimous position of the Catalan capitalist class was articulated clearly by Duran i Lleida, the leader of Unió, a political party that had been a close ally of CDC (the predecessor of Puigdemont’s PDECAT), an alliance that broke when CDC became a pro-independence party. In a TV interview on the day, Lleida said that “Capital wants stability and it knows that it [i.e. independence] creates insecurity” and added that the Spanish government would have “no other option but to use Article 155”, which allows for the suspension of Catalan self-rule.
To the pressure of the Catalan capitalists (who in the last few days have moved the legal residence of the largest Catalan companies to the rest of Spain) we must add the pressure of the European Union capitalist bosses, who also dislike “instability”. In a public statement, the president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, warned the Catalan president “to respect constitutional order and not to announce a measure [Unilateral Declaration of Independence] which would make dialogue impossible”. There must have also been a number of private calls from European heavyweights.The day’s sequence of events had been agreed beforehand between the Catalan ruling coalition JxSi (United for Yes, comprising bourgeois nationalist PDCAT and the social-democratic ERC) and the anti-capitalist pro-independence CUP which provides the necessary MPs for a parliamentary majority. President Puigdemont was going to read a full statement declaring a Catalan Republic and then announce that its implementation was going to be suspended to allow time for negotiation and talks.
At the last minute, the session was delayed by an hour and the president changed the script. Instead of reading the declaration of the Catalan Republic he made a statement on behalf of his government. The key point was when he explained that “with the results of the 1 Oct referendum Catalonia has won the right to be an independent state, and it has won the right to be listened and respected” (my emphasis). Then he added: “having reached this historic moment … I assume, in presenting to you the results of the referendum … the mandate that Catalonia shall become an independent state in the form of the republic.”
Note that the use of words was particularly non-committal and vague. At that point, the crowd following the session from outside Parc de la Ciutadella erupted in cheers. That was not to last, for just two sentences later he added: “and with the same solemnity the government and myself, propose that Parliament suspends the effects of the declaration of independence so that in the next few weeks we embark in a dialogue, without which it is not possible to reach an agreed solution”. The faces of the crowd changed, from elation to disbelief. The CUP parliamentarians refused to stand up and didn’t clap at the end of the speech and their spokesperson Anna Gabriel made a sharp speech complaining that this was not what they had come to the session for.
After the session was over, the MP of the pro-independence majority, in a separate room, went on to put the signatures to the actual Declaration of Independence, a document which, so far, has no legal effect and will not be published as an official document in the Catalan government bulletin.
The reaction of the CUP and many amongst the ranks of the people who have mobilised, in the hundreds of thousands, in the last few weeks and braved brutal police repression to make sure the referendum went ahead, was one of disappointment, anger, but also, in great measure, recognition that achieving a Catalan Republic would not be as easy as they might have expected. The CUP then issued a warning to the Catalan government that they would give this attempt at talks only a limited timeframe and that in the meantime they would not take their seats in parliament (which JxSi needs for a parliamentary majority).
Manoeuvres and reaction
The way in which Puigdemont’s statement was made and its content reveal clearly the weakness of the strategy of the Catalan bourgeois and petty-bourgeois politicians in the Catalan government. First of all the masses were kept outside of the Parc de la Ciutadella, where the Catalan Parliament building is. They wanted the session to be free from the direct pressure of the masses which have mobilised in the last few weeks.
Secondly, the statement is an attempt to get European powers involved in the conflict, so that they can somehow mediate between the Catalan and Spanish governments. This is foolish in the extreme, as the European capitalist powers do not care one iota about the right of self-determination of small nations (though they are of course happy to use it as a fig-leaf when it suits their purposes). If there was a major breakdown of “law and order” threatening serious economic and financial consequences, they might consider intervening, but any intervention would not have the interests of the Catalan people at heart.
The comparison that has been floated in Catalan nationalist circles with the way Slovenia became independent (first a declaration of independence which was suspended in the hope for an agreed referendum, and six months later a final declaration) is completely misguided. At that time there was already a foreign imperialist power (Germany), which was plotting for the breakup of Yugoslavia for its own reactionary reasons. Furthermore, support for independence in Slovenia was overwhelming, when in Catalonia it is not.
The other side of the coin to the manoeuvres and half-hearted steps taken by the Catalan government is the reaction of the Spanish state. This morning Rajoy made a statement coming out of a council of ministers in which he explained that he had sent a written requirement to the Catalan government to explain if it had or not declared independence.
This, far from being a gesture of goodwill or a respite in the tensions, is a legal prerequisite for the application of Article 155 of the Constitution which allows the central government to suspend, partially or completely, autonomic powers. This is the way the Spanish regime will act. It cannot allow the slightest shadow to be cast over the rule of law and Spanish legality and it will respond with all means at its disposal, legal as well as repressive.
The PSOE leaders have already said that they will fully support the implementation of Article 155, adding that the negotiation Puigdemont proposes is “illegal”. In order to cover themselves they have also announced an agreement with premier Rajoy to convene a “constitutional reform” commission which will work over a period of six months. This is not even a proper carrot, to balance the Article 155 stick.
Everyone understands that the Spanish 1978 regime will never allow for the right of self-determination to be included in the Spanish constitution (short of a revolutionary situation in which they risk losing everything). Any constitutional reform involving the two main parties of the regime (PP and PSOE) will only produce small, secondary amendments.
In the afternoon session of the Spanish Congress, Mariano Rajoy clarified the limits for any ‘reform’: “the sovereignty of Spain as a whole cannot be negotiated, nor the indivisibility of the Spanish nation” and he added: “they are trying to confuse us over an alleged right to decide, which is a cunning way to invoke a right to self-determination which is not recognised in any constitution”.
Therefore it is likely that in the next few days the Spanish state will again take measures against the democratic rights of the Catalan people and resort to repression. The conflict is not over by any means. A showdown has just been averted by a few hours, perhaps days or at most a few weeks. The Spanish state is sure to make good use of the 12 Oct Spanish national day, to mobilise the forces of Spanish nationalism in the streets, including another demonstration that has already been called in Barcelona.
A revolutionary task
The events of the last 24 hours clearly demonstrate a few central points that we have stressed from the beginning: the setting up of a Catalan republic (even the exercise of the right of self-determination) in the context of the Spanish regime is a revolutionary task and therefore cannot be led by the Catalan bourgeois and petty-bourgeois politicians.
A revolutionary task means relying on the power of the organised and mobilised masses, which has been on display in the events of 20 September (when 50,000 surrounded the building of the Catalan Finance Ministry in an attempt to prevent the actions of the Civil Guard); 1 October, when hundreds of thousands occupied schools, opened and protected polling stations; and 3 October when again hundreds-of-thousands brought Catalonia to a standstill and took the streets in dozens of towns and cities.
The cause of a Catalan Republic needs to widen its social base of support by appealing to those sections of the Catalan working class that are justifiably wary of the Catalan bourgeois leaders of the government. To a certain extent that already happened as a result of police repression on 1 Oct, but it needs to go further.
While the figures of the referendum have to be taken with caution (police repression closed hundreds of polling stations where 700,000 people were registered, and seized dozens of ballot boxes which could never be counted), it is clear that turnout was significantly lower in the working-class areas surrounding Barcelona and Tarragona, where the Spanish-speaking Catalan workers are concentrated. Thus, while overall turnout was 43 percent, in the industrial working-class Baix Llobregat county it was only 32 percent; and in the Barcelonès country (including Barcelona, Badalona, Santa Coloma de Gramenet, Sant Adrià del Besos and Hospitalet) it was 36 percent.
These layers can only be won by a clear identification of the idea of a Catalan Republic, national and democratic rights, linked to the idea of reversing austerity and cuts, and the struggle for jobs, homes, health care, education and pensions for all.
This is why Catalan Marxists argue for a Socialist Republic as the only way forward. Such a program would also be the best way to appeal to the working people of the rest of the Spanish state in a common struggle against the 1978 regime.
Catalonia: towards an independent republic?
By Jorge Martin on 10th October 2017
#BenvingudaRepública (Welcome Republic): this is the hashtag being used to organise mobilisations today, Oct 10 in Barcelona, when the Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, will address Catalan Parliament about the results of the independence referendum on Oct 1. Those organising the mobilisations have two aims: to push Puigdemont to actually declare the Catalan Republic and also to defend and protect the session of the Catalan Parliament (the Spanish Constitutional Tribunal already ruled on Friday that a session which was to take place on Monday had to be cancelled). What will happen?
Let’s go back a few days. The brutal repression of the Catalan independence referendum was met with a massive Catalan-wide stoppage combined with a general strike on Oct 3, which brought hundreds of thousands to the streets in Barcelona and tens of thousands to towns and cities across Catalonia.
For a few days there was a lot of talk of negotiations and mediation. Initiating these talks was the Catalan government, which seemed to be wavering and looking for a way out. Two things prevented them from moving towards compromise: mass pressure on the streets during the Oct 3 general stoppage but also the stubborn and provocative position of the Spanish government, also under pressure from its right. The King’s speech on Oct 3 in the evening was harsh and sent a clear and sharp message: NO NEGOTIATION, NO TALKS, SURRENDER OR ELSE.
The message was aimed at the Catalan government but also at the PSOE party in case it was having second thoughts on giving the PP full support in measures against Catalonian self-rule.
Unidos Podemos then intensified their campaign and either initiated or took advantage of an initiative called “Let’s Talk” (Parlem – Hablemos). In a complete misreading of the situation (one that cannot come from ignorance but from political calculation) their argument was: this is a clash of trains, both sides should talk to each other and reach a negotiated agreement. What a scandal! The Spanish regime is denying the right of self-determination and using truncheons to prevent people from actually voting, but according to Podemos and IU it all comes down to “lack of dialogue!” Instead, they should have been saying: we stand for the right of self-determination, which is a basic democratic right. The Spanish regime is denying this basic right, therefore the regime must be brought down.
On Saturday, in a program by Catalan broadcaster TV3, Pablo Iglesias said that a Unilateral Declaration of Independence on the part of the Catalan government would be a grave mistake as it would “give the PP all excuses to suppress democratic rights in Catalonia”, which in reality, particularly in the absence of any realistic alternative, is an argument in general against any strike, demonstration or act of civil disobedience.
On Saturday, Oct 7, there were demonstrations in different parts of Spain under the “let’s talk” slogan. In Barcelona, a sizeable crowd gathered, but these were mainly against independence rather than being for negotiation. Outside of Catalonia however, these demonstrations were seen as a (very weak) attempt to resist the growing wave of reactionary Spanish nationalism. In Madrid thousands gathered, dressed in white, for talks, but also in opposition to an ugly reactionary crowd for Spanish unity. The crowd included prominent leaders of the ruling PP and its political spectrum went all the way to the far right and open fascist elements.
On Sunday there was a big march in Barcelona that had been billed as being against independence and for Spanish unity. The “silent majority” of Catalans against independence were going to come out. Who convened the demo? An organisation called Catalan Civil Society (SCC), which has now attempted to clean up its image but has far-right elements amongst its founders. The demo had the backing of PP and Ciudadanos, but also that of the Catalan PSOE (PSC) which sent a letter to its members encouraging them to participate. Again, as in Madrid, this was an opportunity for the far-right to came out in public. Far-right (Vox, Hazte Oir, PxC, Identitarians), openly fascist (Falange, Legión) and openly Nazi (Democracia Nacional) organisations were all present and officially calling for the demonstration.
The crowd was estimated by Barcelona local police at 300,000, which is probably accurate. Make no mistake, this was a sizeable demonstration, though nothing like what we saw during the general strike a few days earlier (700,000) nor during Catalan national day on Sept 11 (1 million). The demonstration was not just for Spanish unity, this was a demonstration which cheered on the National Police and Civil Guard which had broken up the independence referendum and called on Catalan president Puigdemont to be jailed.
Those present fell broadly into a four categories: middle-class and upper-middle-class from the wealthy neighbourhoods of Barcelona, some layers of backward working-class elements from the red belt outside of Barcelona, lumpen fascist elements, people who had come from outside Catalonia (bused in and in trains, from Madrid, Valencia, Andalucia, etc).
It would be wrong to say that the demonstration was a fascist one. If it were, we would be talking of a mass fascist demonstration and that would certainly be extremely dangerous. Fascists were clearly present, a few hundred at most, they blended in with the rest of the reactionary crowd, acted from within it and went on the rampage in a several incidents attacking mainly migrants, but also others. The Spanish police had a policy of tolerance towards their actions.
It would also be wrong to say that the bulk of the demonstrators came from outside Catalonia, as some have tried to argue. The PP and Ciudadanos — the two main forces behind this demo — received a total of over 750,000 votes in the Sept 27, 2015 Catalan elections just in the province of Barcelona. In a highly polarised situation they are of course able to mobilise large numbers in the streets. A big demonstration does not mean a majority of Catalans reject independence. Nor does it mean that all Catalans who oppose independence are reactionary. About 170,000 turned out to vote NO on Oct 1. However, the demonstration on Sunday was thoroughly reactionary in its character, slogans and aims.
Over the last few days we have also seen intense pressure from the Catalan bourgeoisie on Puigdemont not to go ahead with a Unilateral Declaration of Independence (DUI in Catalan). One of the main bosses organisations (Cercle d’Economía) had a meeting with the Catalan president on Saturday with one clear message: NO DUI. On Sunday, the head of the largest and oldest Catalan bosses’ organisation, Guy de Montella from Fomento Nacional del Trabajo, was present at the reactionary unionist demo. The FNT issued a very sharply worded statement the day after with one message: not one single step further towards a DUI. The last few days have witnessed a constant stream (more like a flood) of Catalan companies and banks announcing they were moving their fiscal residence outside of Catalonia (La Caixa, Banc de Sabadell, Abengoa, Freixenet, etc). In fact the largest Catalan companies have either moved or announced they will move their fiscal residence if there is independence.
Take note those who think that the movement for Catalan self-determination is being driven by the Catalan bourgeoisie! Those who lead the Catalan government are bourgeois and petty-bourgeois politicians, but the capitalist class in Catalonia is unequivocally AGAINST Catalan independence, for two reasons, which they explained clearly. One, it would create uncertainty and disruption (including the question of EU membership), which is never good for business. Two: it is unleashing a movement of the masses on the streets with its own dynamics, which they fear as a mortal threat.
These highly publicised decisions (encouraged by a new law by the Spanish government easing the legal requirements to move fiscal residence) are a form of economic blackmail against a Catalan republic and have already had a certain impact on the ruling PDECAT, which is after all a bourgeois party. A string of statements from prominent party members have questioned the wisdom of declaring a DUI, including Catalan government member Santi Vila, the party’s general coordinator Marta Pascal and former Catalan president and party heavyweight Artur Mas. They have all argued for a form of “symbolic” declaration of independence which would somehow not come into being for a few months more (perhaps via Constituent Assembly elections).
However, any attempt by the Catalan government to climb down and start a retreat faces two main problems. One: the fact that the Spanish state, rather than offering any way out, is hardening its stance. Two: the fact that there is a mass movement in the streets for Catalan independence, which braved police repression to make sure the referendum took place and they would see anything short of recognition of its results as a betrayal.
Monday Oct 9 was also Valencia’s national day. The Catalan-speaking region south of Catalonia usually sees demonstrations in defence Valencian language (as Catalan is called there) as well as institutional events. This year the day was marked by tension over Catalan independence. An unauthorised far-right demonstration of a few hundred thugs attacked two left-wing and nationalist demonstrations, while the police watched on. The scenes were hair-raising; with the fascist thugs chanting slogans against the main left and Catalan nationalist leaders: “Artur Mas cámara de gas” (gas chamber for Artur Mas), “Puigdemont al paredón” (Puigdemont to the execution squad), “metralleta para el de la coleta” (machine gun Pablo Iglesias), “dinamita para el podemita” (dynamite against podemos supporters), “Monica Oltra hija de puta” (Monica Oltra, motherfucker), while giving the fascist salute.
On the same day, there was a failed arson attack against the national headquarters of the CUP in Barcelona, as well as an earlier attack against the offices of Podemos and ERC in Sabadell.
The fascist gangs are not large in numbers, but now they have been allowed to take the streets with the acquiescence of the ruling PP and the connivance of the police.
The lesson from this is clear: the fascists need to be fought back by well-organised stewarding and self-defence by the left and working-class organisations. Demonstrations, offices and well-known leading figures need to be protected. In Valencia there should be a call for a mass anti-fascist demonstration mobilising the full might of the workers organisations.
On the eve of the Oct 10, Pablo Casado (the national spokesperson of the Popular Party) showed clearly the intentions of the ruling party and the Spanish regime. In an incendiary press statement he recalled the anniversary of the October 6 events in 1934, when Catalan president Companys declared a Catalan State, adding that he hoped “no one would make the same mistake as anyone making it would end up in the same way”.
Companys was arrested in 1934 but he “ended up” being shot by Franco. A chilling reminder that both the PP and the Spanish 1978 regime sink their roots in the Franco dictatorship.
Casado added he would propose the introduction of legislation banning parties ADVOCATING independence, which would leave parties currently representing 48.5% of the Catalan electorate outside of the law.
Regarding the mobilisations being organised for Oct 10: the official civil society demonstrations are calling for a rally outside the perimeter of the Ciutadella Park, which houses the Catalan parliament in the afternoon, when the session is supposed to take place. However, others have different ideas. Several Committees for the Defence of the Referendum, the rank and file bodies which sprung ahead of Oct 1 and played a key role in defending the polling stations, are calling for people to start gathering outside parliament itself from 6am in order not only to make sure the session can go ahead, but also that members of parliament inside actually go through with the declaration of the Catalan Republic.
The students’ movement, which has played a key role in the independence movement, is calling for students to march in columns from their universities from 12.30pm in the afternoon to converge outside parliament at 2pm.
It is likely that Puigdemont will make a declaration of independence in one form or another. The PP, Cs, PSC and others will attempt to block it. He might just announce it without putting it to the vote, on the strength of the referendum result, to which he is legally bound. He might attempt a manoeuvre to gain time.
As soon as any decision is taken or announced the Spanish state will move swiftly and strongly against it. Already 150 agents from the special intervention unit of the Civil Guard are stationed near the Barcelona airport, ready to take over key transport and infrastructure centres if independence is declared. Today, the Catalan Supreme Court of Justice has announced it was switching its security arrangements from the Catalan police Mossos to the Spanish National Police. Article 155 which allows for the suspension of Catalan self-rule is likely to be used. Those responsible for the declaration of independence could be arrested (the Catalan government, the speakers of Parliament, etc).
The Spanish state might want to use Spain’s national day on Oct 12 to mobilise people in the streets throughout the country, including in Barcelona, to back its actions and give them legitimacy.
But any move on the part of the Spanish state to arrest the Catalan government and/or suspend autonomy will be met with fierce resistance, mass demonstrations and general strikes. Two small unions have already legally registered a general strike to take place at any time between Oct 10 and 20, so that a strike can actually be called legally at short notice on any of those dates.
October 10 will be yet another crucial turning point in the mass movement in Catalonia and the crisis of the Spanish regime. The masses will be on the scene once more, and what will happen will depend, to a large extent, on their actions.