Friday, November 17, 2017

National struggle and class struggle: complementary or contradictory?

Parallels between Catalonia/Spain and Quebec/Canada


A major item on the agenda of the upcoming convention of Québec solidaire (QS), to be held in the Montréal suburb of Longueuil December 1-3, will be a proposal for fusion with another pro-independence party, Option nationale (ON). This will entail revisiting the relationship between the parties’ support for Quebec independence (basically the entire program of ON) and Québec solidaire’s attempt to link the national question with its social justice program.

The current struggle for national self-determination in Catalonia quite naturally suggests parallels with the issues posed in the Quebec pro-sovereignty movement. In recent weeks, two leaders of Québec solidaire — Manon Massé, a party spokeswoman and member of Quebec’s National Assembly, and André Frappier, a member of the QS National Coordinating Committee — have visited Catalonia as invited guests of the Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP), a left pro-independence party that is now contesting the December 21 Catalan election.

In the following article, which I have translated from Presse-toi à gauche, André returns to a topic he has frequently addressed in recent months as a coordinator of a pan-Canadian network of left social movement activists that is now beginning to develop. An earlier article by him was published here on October 5.

André’s article is followed by a statement of the newly-formed Quebec coalition of solidarity with Catalonia, which includes major nationalist organizations, trade unions and political parties. Its first public meeting will be held tomorrow, November 18, in Montréal. See its web site for particulars, at

– Richard Fidler

* * *

National struggle and class struggle: complementary or contradictory?

Parallels between Catalonia/Spain and Quebec/Canada

By André Frappier

The political situation in Quebec and internationally, with the escalation of the Catalan national struggle, impels us to deepen our thinking on these issues. What role can Quebec’s national liberation struggle play in class terms, in the context of the fight for emancipation of the peoples in the Canadian state? The following is an attempt to address these questions.

For more than forty years the national question in Quebec has been dominated by the Parti québécois. But it was not the PQ that invented nationalism, that was the product of the domination that has existed since the British Conquest and which was structurally integrated at the time of the Canadian confederation.

Nationalism is not, by definition, necessarily progressive. That depends on the political situation and the role nationalism is summoned to play as a vehicle for transformation toward an egalitarian society. Historically, in Quebec, national oppression has always been a source of social mobilization against capitalist domination, which appears beneath the face of a foreign domination.

This domination has been introduced in various ways — in the cultural, media, educational systems as well as at the economic and social levels. For many years now, American and Canadian culture have inundated our television screens. Quite recently, the CBC produced a purportedly historical narrative of Canada’s history that in no way reflected the historical roots of Quebec or of the indigenous nations. And for many years, as Yvon Deschamps used to say, you worked in English or were unemployed in French — which is still the situation in many areas of activity today.

It was this feeling of excess that the PQ built on in its origins. The nationalization of electricity resources previously controlled by various private interests, initiated by René Lévesque under Jean Lesage’s Liberal government, showed the way and prompted a major economic take-off, boosting national pride.

This “Quiet Revolution” completed by René Lévesque’s PQ soon came up against some antisocial economic choices with the rise of the recessionary period at the turn of the 1980s. The national liberation struggle was never able to develop its full potential, therefore. In the years that followed, the PQ built itself as a party of neoliberal state administration with the consequences that entailed in terms of disillusionment and the stifling of mobilizations if not direct confrontation as in 1983 during the public sector negotiations.

The sovereigntist perspective was dimmed both by the neoliberal policies implemented by the PQ when it was in office and by the identitarian nationalism that has come to replace the strategic impasse which the party had reached and which ultimately became the gravedigger of what it had once been. Herein lies the necessary distinction between the deviation of the PQ’s nationalism and the scope of the struggle for sovereignty in terms of social change, not only in Quebec but in the Canadian state.

In Catalonia, where the political struggle is now much more intense than it is in Quebec, the fight for a popular reappropriation of society is crucial. The issue of fiscal independence emphasized by the middle classes arouses no sympathy among the popular classes in the rest of the Spanish state or in a significant part of Catalonia as well, in particular the popular sectors in the working-class neighborhoods of Barcelona.

The Catalan independentist movement, and more precisely the left, will have to take this into account, especially because Rajoy accuses Catalonia of benefiting from economic resources more ample than the Spanish average and claims that the Catalan population wants to keep its wealth for itself, depriving the rest of Spain. The Spanish working class is in this way pressed to support those who are applying the rules of austerity against it and to fight against its objective ally in Catalonia.

The struggle of the Catalan people must therefore find a way to link their fight for national liberation to a perspective of struggle against the austerity imposed on the entire Spanish state by the government in Madrid, as the movement of the indignados did a few years ago.

The dynamic of struggles is not linear. The fight for social change and the overthrow of the old state does not begin everywhere at the same time, and develops more intensely within nations oppressed by the central state. It is essential that the Spanish working class likewise find the way to supporting the struggle of the Catalan people against the oppressor state headed by Mariano Rajoy. This is in its own interests. A defeat of the Catalan struggle would be a major victory not only for the right-wing government in Madrid; it would also ensure some stability to the European Union in its domination of the working class throughout Europe, which could continue to enrich itself through increasingly drastic austerity measures as it did with the Greek population two years ago.

So also in Quebec. The fight for control of our national fate, our resources, our environment and our industry cannot be successful without challenging the control by the ruling classes. That inevitably means looking beyond Quebec’s borders and calling on the working people in the rest of Canada to support our fight for social justice against the equally inevitable intervention of the Canadian state and its financial institutions, which will apply the same medicine as the World Bank did to Greece or Madrid and the European Union is doing to Catalonia. Didn’t Trudeau say that there was only one united Spain?

November 14, 2017

* * *

Quebec solidarity with Catalonia

Media release, November 9, 2017

In the wake of events in Catalonia, especially since the Declaration of Independence of the region by the Catalan Parliament, several major organisations of civil society and four political parties in Quebec have agreed to come together to form a broad coalition of citizen solidarity and cross-partisan support for Catalonia.

The Coalition supports the Catalan population and the Carles Puigdemont government, which was democratically elected in 2015. It calls on Spain to respect democracy and condemns the continuing wrongful proceedings against the Catalan leaders, as well as any recourse to violence. In addition, the Coalition intends to support the efforts of the Catalan government to have the new Catalan Republic recognised.

International solidarity
When we see the inertia of the international community, the intransigence, use of force and violation of the civil and political rights practiced by the Spanish government with regard to Catalonia, it is imperative that Québécois who support the principle of democracy speak out in solidarity with the Catalan people and government who have fought peacefully and democratically for their right to self-determination.

The objective of the Coalition established today is to ensure that these rights are respected by the Spanish State and also recognised by the international community, starting with the governments of Quebec and Canada.

Broad public meeting on November 18th
As a first activity, the partners in the Coalition have agreed to organise a big public meeting on Saturday, November 18 to take stock of the situation in Catalonia, and to show Quebec's support to the Catalan people. It is intended that a Declaration of Quebec Solidarity with Catalonia be announced, along with with artistic performances and an open discussion period. The details of this gathering will be announced soon.

Call for broadening of the Coalition
In order to broaden the reach of the message and make the action of the Coalition even more powerful and effective, an appeal is made to all groups, civil society organisations and political parties that respect the right of the Catalan people to choose their future to express their interest by email via the address

Full details of the activities and actions undertaken by the Coalition will be available on the website

The following organisations have, to date, agreed to join the Coalition (in alphabetical order):


    Cercle culturel catalan du Québec
    Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN)
    Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec (FTQ)
    Mouvement national des Québécoises et Québécois (MNQ)
    Organisations unies pour l’indépendance (OUI Québec)
    Réseau Cap sur l’indépendance (RCI)
    Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste (SSJB)


    Bloc québécois
    Option nationale
    Parti québécois
    Québec solidaire

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Catalonia: Democratic revolution or authoritarian state

Catalonia -una-imatge-de-la-manifestacio-daquest-11n-al-carrer-marina

November 11, 2017 demonstration in Barcelona demanding release of Catalan political prisoners.


The Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP) is a left pro-independence party in Catalonia that has emerged in recent years and developed around an anticapitalist program. With ten seats in the now-deposed Catalan parliament, it gave critical support to the Puigdemont government, ensuring a pro-independence majority, but was not a member of the government as such. For background information on the CUP, see:

The radical party behind the Catalan referendum,

The far-left separatists who took Catalonia to the brink,

On November 12 a CUP general assembly voted by 64% in favour of presenting a slate in its own name in the December 21 Catalan elections called by the Spanish government, to be held under the occupation regime Madrid has installed after jailing Catalan government ministers and leaders of the mass pro-independence civic organizations. The CUP will also support parties in the Constituent Call, as in the 2015 elections.

In the following article a leader of the CUP explains its view of the central issues in the election campaign, outlines the history and origins of the rising pro-independence movement in Catalonia in recent years, and critically analyzes the positions on the Catalan national question taken by Podemos and other left forces in the Spanish state as well as by the major pro-sovereignty parties in Catalonia.

Òscar Simón Bueno is a member of the national secretariat of the CUP and an acting professor. This article was published on November 7 on Viento Sur. Footnotes and bracketed explanatory notes in the text are taken from the French translation published in À l’Encontre. My translation from the Spanish text.

– Richard Fidler

* * *

Behind the events in Catalonia, the question of power, alliances and self-organization of the people

By Óscar Simón Bueno

November 7, 2017

The struggle for self-determination in Catalonia, carried by an authentically popular movement, has highlighted a number of features of the situation, especially since the unilateral referendum of October 1:

  • The highly reactionary nature of monarchical Spanish nationalism.
  • The inability of Spanish republicanism (with few exceptions) to generate a critical political stance capable of mobilizing broad masses of the population and detaching them from rightist influence.
  • The need for any movement of democratic rupture to seriously confront the question of power.
  • The unity of the bourgeoisie as a class in defense of the status quo.

These issues, without exception, can be resolved only in the process of the democratic revolution.

The pact that assigned the Spanish state its function as an instrument of class domination is weakening as a result of globalization

The Spanish state has been the political form of capitalist economic exploitation since the 19th century. Through this pact the constituent bourgeoisies maintained their domination and obtained some economic advantages. Territorial specialization, with peripheral zones that serve as reservoirs of migrant labour and raw materials, coexisted with central territories like Madrid, Barcelona or Bilbao which held the administrative, industrial and financial power.

The configuration of this pact permitted exploitation under the regime of state territorial monopoly.

Despite some dysfunctioning, in particular owing to the preponderance of each of the bourgeoisies in the management of the state apparatus, the pact was maintained under Franco and during the three long decades that followed the dictatorship. It is only with the development of neoliberal globalization that the distribution of roles became outmoded, especially in regard to the Catalan industrial power which, owing to the free circulation of commodities, no longer enjoys its prerogative within the Spanish state.

Faced with this process, the various bourgeoisies within the state understand that in a globalized world the management of infrastructures is essential in order to attract investment and transform a given space into a pole of capitalist accumulation. The contest to manage airports, rail transportation and highway investment, like the battle for control of the strategic sectors, was clearly taking place during the first decade of this century. The expansion of airports like the Prat [Barcelona], Barajas [Madrid] or others built without a plane taking off; the harbour construction bubble or the takeover bid on Endesa [the electricity and natural gas company in which the Italian firm Enel holds a large majority of shares] launched by Gas Natural [its head office is (or was) in Barcelona], aborted to cries of “rather Italian than Catalan,” are illustrative.

The idea of developing a new statute for Catalonia [between 2003 and 2006] was an attempt to update the pact and — beyond the powers it comprised and the fact that the word “nation” appeared in its preamble — its central aspect was the investments in infrastructures in Catalonia, the amount of which was included in a provision of the 2006 Statute. As it happens, that statute has not been implemented by the state during most of the years following its coming into force. [A provision of the Statute specified that “the investment in infrastructures of the State in Catalonia, with the exception of the interterritorial compensation fund, will amount to the relative share of Catalonia’s GDP in the GDP of the Spanish state for a period of seven years.”]

The collection of signatures against the statute initiated by the PP [People’s Party, the governing party in Madrid] generated anti-Catalan feeling but also provoked a contrary effect in Catalonia: a growth of what the former President of the Generalitat José Montilla [between 2006 and 2010, a member of the PSC, the Party of Socialists of Catalonia] called “disaffection toward the Spanish state.”

The economic crisis and the harsh antisocial policies initiated by the Zapatero government (April 2004-December 2011] and deepened by the PP have also put an end to the mirage of political alternance at the level of the central state. The fact that the PSOE (Zapatero’s party, social-democratic) appears as a force implementing budget cutbacks has had serious consequences throughout the state and particularly in Catalonia where the image of the PSC, its Catalan counterpart, was clearly damaged and marked the beginning of a decline that continues today [one of the expressions of this decline was that several small formations separated from the Party of Socialists of Catalonia to join the Junts pel Si coalition]. That is, the political forces that govern the state found themselves without a party with the capacity to win elections in Catalonia.

Preparation of the 2009 referendum at Arenys de Munt

It was in this context that the movement promoting referendums for independence began in Arenys de Munt in 2009, and it soon extended throughout Catalonia. [By the spring of 2011, hundreds of popular consultations had been held in Catalan communes; more than 800,000 people had voted, and the state had already initiated legal proceedings against these referendums.] This, combined with the 15M movement [the anti-austerity mass occupations of city squares that began on May 15, 2011] helped to increase popular consciousness of the need for “self-government” in all of its implications, including the national question. But the emergence of the idea of self-determination and defense of independence from a state that oppresses and exploits had first to confront the attempts of the defunct CiU [a conservative coalition that governed Catalonia between 1980 and 2003, and between 2010 and 2015] to redirect the popular demands toward reaching a fiscal agreement with the state.

This goal of a redivision of the tax system between the two levels of government was intended to achieve the same status that the Basque bourgeoisie had obtained through the Concierto Económico [a series of agreements between the central state administration and the Basque autonomous community that govern tax issues between the two with broad autonomy for the latter]. However, the popular mobilization, especially after September 11, 2012, ended that attempt.

The social mobilization for improved living conditions converged with the idea of a break with the Spanish state, making independence an alternative for millions of people.

As a result the CiU — Convergence and Union, the coalition that had managed to participate in the governance of the state[1] while posing as the guarantor of Catalan demands — could see how the popular movement for independence was preventing it from playing both of these roles simultaneously.

The Spanish state no longer united the bourgeois or right-wing parties; it entered into a profound crisis. Not by the will of the party leaderships, but because the society in Catalonia had changed and the only possibility of governing for the CiU, which was now falling apart, was to commit to following in the wake of the newly independentist Catalan voters who were evolving toward positions further to the left. In this sense, the basic idea of “first independence, then we’ll see” was to win the votes that had moved from autonomism to independentism while preventing the compelling proposals of the Catalan social left from becoming a permanent part of the independence movement.

The clearest consequence of this break between the bourgeoisies in Catalonia and the Spanish state was this: if the state was to maintain its primacy it would have to inflict a decisive defeat on the Catalan movement, and be especially harsh with the Catalan Right in order to win the support of those business interests that had previously used the CiU as the political vehicle for their economic ambitions. It was indispensable to defeat and humiliate the representatives of the small and middle bourgeoisie — who even today support the process — in order to relaunch the Pacto de Estado, the state agreement, by which this bourgeoisie would agree to a centralist administration of the infrastructures that are indispensable to globalization. The multinational corporations, financial interests headquartered in Catalonia, and a large section of the employer organizations positioned themselves in opposition to the Catalan Republic. In other words, Spanish monarchical nationalism could count on the support of almost all of the big bourgeoisie.

Spanish republicanism, the inability of Podemos and the IU to confront the reaction

Throughout the economic crisis and the process of neoliberal structural adjustment, the left in the Spanish state was unable to recognize or understand that the fight against neoliberalism in Catalonia was associated, for huge numbers of people, with the struggle for national liberation, both because of the existence of a national conflict and because of the neoliberal ferocity of the PP. The latter did not hesitate for one moment to cut back the gains obtained by social struggles in Catalonia, as in the case of the Emergency Housing Law.[2] This does not mean that the independence movement is anticapitalist, but that for many people independence is associated with the idea of ​​a less unfair and unequal society.

Podemos and IU (Izquierda Unida), for whatever reasons, have been unable to place at the heart of the state political crisis the idea of ​​the Republic as a mechanism to break with the 1978 regime. Their idea of ​​social patriotism has failed, until now, because it did not manage to place it on a material basis from which to fight in the streets and in the workplace against the Spanish right wing or, to use the terms of their populist analysis, because it has not found the signifier needed to build the chain of equivalence that gives birth to a people. Why the leadership of Podemos and Izquierda Unida have chosen to this point not to place the demand for a republic, federal or confederal, at the heart of it all, and why instead they evoke an incomprehensible plurinational state, only they know. It is however evident that this indefiniteness has brought them neither improved electoral prospects nor greater strength in the street nor even a discursive capacity to confront, until now, the Spanish unity around the institution of the monarchy.

The misunderstanding of the role played by the struggle for liberation of the oppressed nations has tended to confuse unity of the working population with unity under a state flag, a position which reflects the same error that led the parties of the Second International to support the First World War. The main enemy of the popular classes of the Spanish state and the working class in particular is the political, economic and social system that allows their domination and exploitation. The task of any force hoping to contribute to the social liberation of the working and popular classes must therefore take advantage of any opportunity to weaken that state. This means, in the here and now, to support, and not to question, the self-determination of Catalonia, not on the basis of a demand that goes against a negotiated referendum on self-determination but rather on the basis of unconditional but critical support to the Catalan movement. With two objectives: (1) to strengthen the position of the left in Catalonia, so that the process places the needs of the popular classes at the center, and (2) to undermine the foundations of Spanish monarchical nationalism, which is one of the fundamental tools that the Right uses to mislead large popular layers.

The positioning of the lefts has led them to view the Catalan conflict from afar and, in Catalonia, to be unable (with the exception of the layer close to Albano Dante [the leader of Podem who has just resigned due to the brutal pressure of the Iglesias leadership] and the Anticapitalistas) to position themselves alongside the popular movement that is conducive to rupture. Had they done so, 78% of the Catalan parliament would have been in favor of the referendum and the left would have been able to act together in the streets and in the workplaces. No one can say what the result would have been, but it is clear that the Republic proclaimed by the Parliament on October 27 would have been much stronger.

The democratic revolution

At this point, it is important to think about how to move forward in this situation. In Catalonia, this means opposing Article 155, which translates, in practice, into promoting the Republic and developing the constituent power.

We have seen how the employers’ organizations, in their majority, have chosen to position themselves on the side of Spanish monarchical nationalism; the banks have done likewise along with the multinationals that were headquartered in Catalonia. This positioning means that only the popular classes and the working class can be looked to as powerful allies of the Republic. And there is the additional problem that the defense of the aforementioned Republic is a matter of indifference to a large part of the working population, because the social agenda of the process has been minimal.

On the current battlefield, there is the political power at the state level, in which the bloc of the PP, PSOE and Ciudadanos is the political expression of Spanish monarchical nationalism. Added to this are the judiciary, the police, the army, the big bourgeoisie and their communications media. On their side we also find the far right. The latter is a minority, but it swims like a fish in the waters of the defense of the sacrosanct unity of Spain.

In the Catalan republican camp we have the sovereigntist entities, the political parties that voted for the Republic in the parliament and the Committees for Defense of the Republic as well as a part of the trade-union left. In the rest of the state, the Catalan republic is supported by the forces of the abertzale left [the Basque “patriotic” left], the sovereigntist forces in Galicia as well as the trade union left in general, especially the left that participates in the Marches for Dignity and, more broadly, in Euskal Herria [Basque Country] and Galicia where there are strong sovereigntist unions. The main political referent for the social left, Unidos Podemos, opposes Article 155 but considers the Catalan Republic illegal. Thus — with the honorable exception of Albano Dante, Marina Albiol (IU) and the Anticapitalistas current — its political action is reduced, for now, to mere rhetoric since it is not even able to call for rallies to support the right to decide.

One of the priorities is to reverse this situation, so that the left which — just two years ago — called for a break with the 1978 regime and the overthrow of the casta, can return to this path or build a new one, a referent that can resist the great pressure of Spanish monarchical nationalism.

Without a mobilization in the rest of the Spanish state the fight for the Catalan Republic will be much more difficult. If, on the issue of Catalonia, Spanish monarchical nationalism manages to win, the defeat of the PP, Ciudadanos and the PSOE will become more remote.

The impetus for the Catalan Republic entails as well the need to confront the question of the power of the Spanish state in Catalonia, which is incorporated in the army, the police and its monopoly on collection of the principal tax revenues.

The Catalan government in recent years has dealt with this question through the idea of ​​creating parallel state structures as well as through the passage from one law to another [“legal transition”]. The reality is that this approach has failed to give the Republic sufficient strength. The parties running in the December 21 elections on the independence and sovereigntist ticket will have to come up with answers on how to approach this issue.

Since it is clear that we need to find another way, some will talk about a highly improbable negotiated referendum. Once the path of the Herrero de Miñón type[3] has been ruled out, the only way left for a referendum on self-determination in Catalonia, based on the rights of historical nationalities, is through a constitutional reform that can only be achieved with a three-quarters majority vote in the Congress of Deputies, followed by the convening of elections, and then ratification. This chain of events is possible, but highly improbable, to say the least, as long as Unidos Podemos does not clearly decide to oppose Spanish monarchical nationalism in defense of the Republic and self-determination, a position that would be more understandable than an abstract plurinationalism, and one which would offer a real alternative to the millions of people who are being plundered under the leadership of the elites.

In Catalonia, it is necessary to build a social program associated with the establishment of the Republic, so that the working class and the popular classes, with their methods of struggle and the position they occupy in the system, can be transformed into a counter-power able to promote the Republic. The idea “first the Republic, then we will see” will prevent us from achieving the social strength necessary to overcome the powers of the State. We must, in addition, build a horizon of struggle that is shared with the other peoples in the state.

If the various left forces are able to recover the idea of ​​the “Federation of Iberian republics,” adapted to the situation today, or of republics united on an equal footing on the basis of the independence of each of them, we will be able to smash one of the best tools available to the elites to dominate us, namely Spanish monarchical nationalism.

In the end, it is not superfluous to recall that the working class is united not by state flags but by the struggle against the common enemy: capitalism.

On the other hand there is the question of how to accumulate sufficient power to break with Spanish monarchical nationalism and its system of political domination. That is, how to develop the mechanisms to implement the program that we were talking about earlier. In Catalonia, this involves an exploration and deepening of the collaboration between the CDRs (the Committees to Defend the Republic), the organized working class and the sovereigntist forces present during the strike of October 3 and which probably will expand during the November 8 general strike [this was not the case].

The CDRs have a central role. They are now the mobilizing organs of the base [this November 8, they blocked dozens of roads, highways and railway lines throughout Catalonia]. Moreover, the coordination among the hundreds of existing committees is progressing at the general and regional level. Their composition is diverse and plural, the dynamic is based on assemblies, and they are rooted in localities and neighborhoods, which enables them to be areas for struggle as well as debate. Therefore, they will always be more fundamental in giving an impetus to the republic and in establishing a constituent process.

[1] That is, when the PSOE or PP governments did not have a majority. In 1996, CiU reached an agreement along these lines with the PP, the Catalan section of which supported the government coalition in the Catalan parliament between 1999 and 2003.

[2] At the end of October this year the Constitutional Tribunal, on a motion by the Spanish government, suspended the Catalan law to protect the right to housing of persons facing eviction, popularly know as the “Housing Emergency Law.” This law had been adopted by the Parliament in December 2016. It established a mediation agency and allowed the temporary use of empty houses foreclosed by banks or owned by major housing landlords. A supplementary provision aimed to establish a “social rent” that would cover persons in debt or about to be evicted. However, it was rejected by Junt pel Si.

[3] Miguel Herrero de Miñon is a former member of the PP (he resigned from that party in 2004), a specialist in public law and one of the so-called “Fathers of the 1978 Constitution.” He is against opening a constituent process, arguing that Spain needs stability and social progress, and says that legislation can evolve without amending the Constitution by resorting to “infraconstitutional” laws. For example, he says it is possible to amend the Elections Act, like other acts, without amending the Constitution. If the Constitution, he says, were to recognize the “personality of Catalonia, the independentists would opt for a new Status.” See the long interview he gave in January 2017 to the on-line site

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Protests paralyze Catalonia as pro-independence groups debate election alliances, strategy

750,000 Catalans demonstrated in Barcelona November 11 calling for release of pro-independence political prisoners. Huge protests were held in other cities and towns throughout Catalonia.


Hundreds of thousands of Catalans demonstrated November 11 calling for immediate freedom for leaders of pro-independence parties and social movements jailed by the Spanish government. In Barcelona alone, the municipal police estimated 750,000 marched, while large demonstrations were held in other cities and towns across Catalonia. Here is a live video broadcast of the protest in the Catalan capital; speeches and music begin at about the three-quarters mark.

These massive demonstrations occurred just three days after traffic in Catalonia was paralyzed by road and rail blockades organized by students and republican defense committees. “The blockades,” reports Dick Nichols, “were part of a day of protest action aimed against the Spanish government’s takeover of the Catalan government and parliament, and the detention of eight Catalan government ministers.” Nichols is the Barcelona-based correspondent of Green Left Weekly. See his full report here.

Also jailed are the leaders of two main pro-independence grassroots groups. Meanwhile, exiled in Brussels are Catalonia’s pro-independence president Carles Puigdemont and four other ministers of his deposed government. They took refuge in the European Union capital within two days after the Catalan parliament voted to issue a unilateral Declaration of Independence following the October 1 referendum. Puigdemont addressed the crowd in Barcelona on November 11 by video broadcast, urging them to “remain active.”

“While in Brussels,” writes Catalan reporter Vicent Partal, Puigdemont “has internationalised the Catalan conflict, exposed Spain’s justice and kept himself and his government free to continue acting as what they are.... Had he stayed in Spain, he would be in jail now with the other half of his cabinet, in a blatant violation of their civil rights.”

Spain has issued an arrest warrant against Puigdemont and the exiled Catalan ministers. A Belgian court will now have to decide if Spain is violating the rights that all European citizens have in European Union member states like Spain and Belgium. This could take weeks, impeding Puigdemont’s participation in the December 21 Catalan election imposed by the Madrid regime.

Puigdemont, like the grassroots Catalan National Assembly, has called for formation of a common slate in the election of all forces committed to repeal of the Spanish state’s intervention under article 155 of the constitution, the release of the political prisoners, and recognition of the October 1 referendum result (i.e. an independent Catalan republic) as binding, Dick Nichols reports in the article cited above.

This ticket would encompass all forces from the most conservative parts of Puidgemont’s Catalan European Democratic Party (PDECat) right across to the [anticapitalist] CUP, and even pro-independence parts of Podemos Catalonia. The PDECat endorsed this approach at its November 3 National Council.

Yet, this outcome seems unlikely, despite support from Puigdemont. The underlying cause is the leftward shift in Catalan society in recent years with the rise of the independence movement.

The main political reflection has been the displacement of PDECat by the centre-left Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC) as the leading pro-independence party. Recent polls show the ERC winning up to three times as many seats as its more conservative government ally and political rival.

Noting the “different assessments that pro-independence and pro-sovereignty forces have of the October 1 referendum,” Nichols concludes:

The most likely outcome seems to be what is being called a ‘common front with separate tickets.’ The common front would be based on five demands: rejecting the Spanish state’s article 155 intervention, recovering Catalan institutions, releasing political prisoners, withdrawing the 12,000 Civil Guards and Spanish National Police and launching a constituent process for the Catalan Republic.

In the following article Josep María Antentas takes a critical look at the Catalan government’s referendum strategy, analyzes the nature and program of the major parties involved, and assesses the prospects now shaping up in view of the December 21 election. Atentas is a professor of sociology at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB) and member of the editorial board of Viento Sur, where this article first appeared. My thanks to Todd Chretien for translating it into English for

Richard Fidler

* * *

Plan for a republic or imaginary republic?

By Josep María Atentas

1. Without a plan. This sums up the Catalan government's strategy after the proclamation of the Catalan Republic on October 27.

Let's review: the Catalan government was elected on September 27, 2015, with an unrealistic perspective based on “disconnecting” from the Spanish state through the approval of a succession of laws and the creation of “state structures” within a period of 18 months. Confronted with the absurdity of this timeframe, in great measure thanks to the insistence of the left-wing, pro-independence Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP) party, the Catalan government announced in September 2016 that it would hold a referendum on independence before the end of 2017.

Thus, without ever recognizing it, the government changed course from the attitude it had adopted in the fall 2014 when it refused to try to carry out the November 9 referendum on independence that has been declared illegal by Supreme Court, instead opting for a nonbinding citizens' consultation. After a long detour, the government returned to the idea of a vote as a solution — the referendum. (See this Viento Sur article for more background.)

As the date approached, the executive office of Catalan President Carles Puigdemont carried out preparations, although they were never convinced the referendum would really come to pass, and they expected that their actions would be abruptly halted by the intervention of the Spanish state at any time. For Puigdemont, then, it was a matter riding the wave for as long as possible. But in the end, he ended up going much farther than he ever imagined he might — or was prepared to venture.

2. No turning back. The logistical success of the October 1 referendum, despite the seizure of ballots by the Spanish police, was real. However, the referendum took place not because of detailed planning by the Puigdemont administration or the leadership of the National Catalan Assembly (ANC), but because of the dynamic of self-organization from below — including people occupying and defending voting stations — that exploded after the wave of repression unleashed by the Spanish state on September 20 that only accelerated as the referendum got closer.

Both the Catalan government and the ANC were content to keep voting stations open and distribute ballot boxes and voting papers. They assumed the Spanish police would prevent a vote — their objective was to get photo ops of long lines of citizens waiting at voting stations that had been closed by force. Things turned out very differently, as we all know. The referendum took place and indignation over repression pushed forward a mass mobilization on October 3.

Then began a series of political vacillations on the part of the Catalan government, which never foresaw this potential scenario nor knew how to deal with the escalating confrontations that might erupt if, one way or the other, it proclaimed a Catalan Republic. Neither did it have any strategy for allying with political forces that mobilized on October 1 and 3, and did not necessarily support independence, but nonetheless would support a break with the Spanish state in the wake of its repressive actions.

After Puigdemont's badly staged “suspension” of the declaration of independence on October 10, and a failed attempt to promise elections if the Spanish government withdrew the application of article 155, on October 26, the Catalan president was forced to proclaim a Catalan Republic without any real plan of what to do next in order to transform the declaration into something more than symbolism.

3. Irresponsible responsibility. Managing time and space is critical for any political or social movement. Since October 3, the Catalan government and the ANC have managed both variables badly. They have allowed the initial momentum to become tangled in a secretive and poorly communicated policy that has upset and disoriented many of their supporters, leaving the long-awaited proclamation of the Republic somewhat cold. Then they renounced any institutional gesture that conveyed a real will to defend the proclamation or, above all, to mobilize in the streets or occupy symbolic and strategic spaces.

Since October 27, there has been an absolute vacuum and an absence of direction. Puigdemont and his cabinet paint an image of resignation and lack of will power — they seem to be following a playbook of what not to do. The history of popular movements is replete with similar situations in which moderate political and social leaderships are incapable of coherently directing the movement they lead, leading at decisive moments to discontent within their own base and, in the end, giving an opening to reaction that organizes itself under the banner of prudence. We can call this policy “irresponsible responsibility.”

4. A chance to break with the “process”? The proclamation of the Republic without a strategic plan to make it effective is, in a certain sense, the political culmination of the official policy of pursuing an independence “process” from 2010 onwards — that is, the policy of permanently playing for time and postponing any confrontation. However, the road to October 1, after the government committed to a referendum in September 2016, only came about owing to the exhaustion of the process. And October 1 tended toward confrontation with the Spanish state, denying the essence of the process itself.

The confrontation resulted from dynamics put in motion by the independence process and was managed by those who supported it, yet the conflict only occurred due to the overwhelming pressure of those who never supported the process to begin with. All this culminated in a series of actions all out of line with the policy of the so-called independence process, including the proclamation of the Republic, in a manner (paradoxically) completely in keeping with the habits of the process — that is, employing entirely symbolic and empty gestures.

5. Reasons. The source of the limits shown by the Catalan government at the moment of truth must be sought in its nature, class composition and political culture.

The Catalan European Democratic Party [PDeCAT, led by Puigdemont and controlling the most seats in the Catalan parliament] is a neoliberal party that was pushed down the road to independence only because it had no alternative. Many of its cadre have come to support independence only recently, while others, like Puigdemont, have always done so. But it is a party of order, with a conservative social base. It has no affinity for ruptures and abrupt changes — it is pragmatic and gradualist by nature, linked to major economic interests (although big capital remains suspicious because of its independence leanings) and vulnerable to pressures from it. It distrusts popular mobilization.

The Republican Left of Catalonia [ERC, a left-wing party that ran on a joint slate with the PDeCAT in the 2015 elections], on the other hand, perfectly embodies a synthesis between a genuine pro-independence conviction and a political culture little disposed to struggle. It is gradualist, with a progressive, middle-class base that, except in some sectors linked to education, has largely remained outside the great social mobilizations of recent years for causes not directly linked to independence. As they say, it lacks punch.

During these decisive weeks, all strategic conceptions and political visions, and the social bases that support the Catalan government and sustain the independence process, have been put to a decisive stress test that exposed their shortcomings (the only exception has been the CUP, which is backed by an important minority of the population). These limits, however, were perfectly visible from the beginning to those willing to notice.

6. Ambiguities. The events of September and October have revealed the ambiguity of the Catalan's government's attitude to popular mobilization. Its incompetent management of its social base's expectations, and those of the movement, between October 3 and 27 is nothing more than a reflection how it conceives of politics, trapped within institutional maneuvers and lacking any ability to direct a mass movement. Beyond government, September 20 and its aftermath clearly demonstrated the strategic impasses of the ANC as well as the Omnium [a highly influential Catalan cultural organization], even if the latter played a secondary role and was, in many ways, more audacious than others.

Since its inception in 2012, the independence process has been an unprecedented mass movement under the social leadership of the ANC. But its conception of organization has been vertical and controlled from above, more in keeping with a culture of representation and delegation than to self-organization. Between September 20 and the events of October 1 and 3, the movement overflowed these limits (although only partially and we should not exaggerate). This caught the government and the ANC (as well as Omnium) off guard, generating fear and apprehension among these forces that they might lose of control of the situation.

In view of the leadership vacuum shown by the Catalan government after September 27, a secondary limitation of the ANC appeared: its subordination to the majority separatist parties (that is, those to its right politically) and its inability to assume a leadership role independently of them.

The ANC's policy as of 2012 was to pressure the Catalan government to move forward, but without ever challenging or disturbing it. The ANC merely pleaded meekly to then-President Artur Mas to carry out the November 9, 2014, referendum after it was banned by the Constitutional Court. Moreover, it accepted a proposal to convert the elections of September 27, 2015 elections into a consultative plebiscite and the illusory roadmap toward a future “disconnection” from the Spanish state. This was a road map in which the initiative was increasingly in the hands of the government, with the ANC playing a decreasingly determining role.

7. A coup in practice. The call for elections in Catalonia by Rajoy after having dissolved the Catalan government makes the real correlation of forces plain to see. More than a duality of powers, what has existed in Catalonia in the last two months is a duality of legitimacy. (See this article for more.) Rajoy regained the initiative by calling for elections, showing that the legality of the Spanish state is still in effect and pushing the independence movement down a defensive path.

This demonstration of force on the part of the Spanish government also contains, however, a sign of relative weakness: It was unable to enforce an absolute, long-term suspension of Catalan autonomy with the aim of dismantling its fundamental pillars (public media, educational, etc.). This option was impossible not only because of the great difficulties in containing its impact, but also, most probably, due to pressure from European authorities that, most likely, pressed for a less damaging outcome, more in keeping with their official hypocrisy.

Rajoy has bought time with the elections. He has succeeded in determining the tempo and has quashed any question about who controls Catalonia. Yet this does not necessarily imply that he has managed to defeat the independence movement in a deeper sense, since the electoral calendar may well once again deliver a parliamentary majority in favor of independence.

8. Offensive repudiationism. The polarization driven by the acceleration of the independence process in September and October has favored, in the short term, conservative forces in the Spanish state, causing a closing of the ranks behind the pro-regime bloc and the entire state apparatus under hegemony of the most conservative sectors. The restoration of Spanish authority in Catalonia is a kind of offensive denialism.

“Repudiation” because it cannot offer a reform from above that at least partially integrates the demands of those who today have been left out of the political framework of the 1978, post-Franco political and social arrangement (principally, the social base of Podemos and the Catalan independence movement), nor can it generate a new distribution of political and institutional power. Neither can it offer a new form of economic and social integration for the bulk of the middle classes, skilled workers and precarious youth.

“Offensive,” though, because it is very aggressive and authoritarian, happily taking advantage of the Catalan crisis to recentralize the entire structure of the Spanish state and isolate Podemos. But the very logic of this offensive repudiationism, in the medium term, will deepen the underlying factors that have created a crisis in the 1978 political framework.

9. Bifurcated futures. The main complicating factor of Catalan politics is that the May 15 movement of mass occupations in 2011 and its subsequent ripples, on the one hand, and the independence process, on the other, have led to divergent expectations, although there are clear similarities.

These bifurcated horizons, in a broader sense, express the complexity of the relationship between the social and the national question in Catalan politics and society. And, on a more concrete level, this problem can be seen in the lack of alliance between pro-independence forces and those who defend Catalonia's right to self-determination within a federal Spanish framework. This failure continues despite Rajoy's repressive actions where the denial of the exercise of this right could open doors for common action.

The independence movement's basic political shortcoming was to dissociate its objective of winning its own state from elucidating a concrete anti-austerity and pro-democracy policy for such a state. Obsessed with not losing support from conservative Catalan forces all along the way, the promoters of the independence movement lacked, from the start, a solid analysis of Catalan social structure. They were indifferent to building an alliance with the kind of social sectors that every project for change needs, and they failed to involve, or even approach, the social base of significant social movements and political forces on the left that did not see their primary objective as independence — perhaps only thinking that sooner or later these would become convinced of the need for independence or at least adapt to it.

Demanding a Catalan Republic in such a way that it could potentially end in independence or in a federation with the Spanish state, clearly articulating a constituent process for such a Catalan Republic, and proposing an emergency plan for resolving ordinary Catalans' most pressing concerns (like unemployment, education, etc.) would have been three elements for overcoming the contradictions emanating from the bifurcated expectations between the May 15 movement [also known as the Indignados movement] and the independence process.

If overcoming these divisions is difficult, then it is surprising how the main actors of Catalan politics have devoted so little strategic attention to this problem over these five years. Attempting to do so would have implied operating both within and outside of the independence process — no doubt a difficult task, but one that the left should have embraced as its own.

10. Division on the left. Within the independence movement, the CUP, of course, has represented a vision that goes far beyond the “pure and simple” independence movement, defending a program that not only linked nationalist and social issues, but also posed an openly anti-capitalist option, in favor of a rupture with the status quo.

Thus, the CUP represented a countertendency to the growing institutionalization of most of the “forces of change” emerged in 2014 and 2015. But it became too focused on its (honest and sincere) role as the guarantor that the independence process would fight all the way to a conclusion, and this meant that it did not have an aggressive policy of discussions with and implantation among the left and its social base, which tended to operate outside the independence process.

For its part, the left outside the independence movement, such as Catalonia en Comú, adopted a passive, wait-and-see policy. It pointed out the many real problems associated with the official independence proposal, among them the emptiness of the idea of independence” as a panacea, the difficulty of bringing the independence project to fruition, the polarization of identities it might generate and the downplaying of other issues and conflicts in favor of the national question's omnipresence. But Catalonia en Comú's lack of real involvement in the process prevented it from intervening in the aforementioned questions.

Its policy represents a kind of paradoxical passivity, in which the contradictions and negative aspects of a situation serve to justify a passive policy, exacerbating the consequences of those same negative aspects. This infernal spiral of passivity is a self-fulfilling prophecy and, in a certain way, reflects a kind of strategic nostalgia for a nonexistent reality in which neither the independence process nor the national question were present.

11. Scenarios. The road to the December 21 elections is still difficult to foresee. The imprisonment of members of the Catalan government, and the effective exile of those in Brussels, shows that the elections are not going to be held, for better or for worse, in a normal context. Yet this is precisely the key to the situation. We must not accept the dynamics imposed by Rajoy as normal.

The blows struck against the Catalan government come in the wake of a vacuum and crisis of leadership. The message recorded from Brussels on November 2 by Puigdemont criticizing the arrests only highlights the Catalan government's incapacity: he condemned the repression, but merely offered a generic call for mobilization without any concrete proposals or goals.

The first reactions after the arrests (protests outside the parliament and in the central squares of several municipalities) seem likely to be followed by a daylong strike on November 8 and a mass demonstration on the November 11. It is still early to gauge these actions' magnitude, but with half the government arrested and the other lacking any political initiative, both the ANC and Omnium, as well as other pro-independence political forces and those opposing the Spanish state's repression, must take a leadership role and set a clear agenda for mobilizing, framed in a strategic perspective that makes sense. Electoral preparations will not help us concentrate on these tasks.

If there is a political agenda defined from above, the dynamics from below, driven by the Committees of Defense of the Republic (CDR), could become be important. The CDRs can play, as they did between September 20 and October 3, a role in overflowing the official structures. However, they do not seem to have the strength to unleash their own perspective of struggle from below if slogans and demands are not issued from above that at least push in this direction — yet quite to the contrary, we can see symptoms of paralysis and bewilderment.

12. Electoral perspectives. It is difficult to predict election results, although it is possible the outcome may be similar to what happened in 2015. No doubt, the independence movement has won support as a result of the repression, but the Catalan government's zigzags between October 1 and 27 and its subsequent paralysis have baffled part of its social base.

On the other hand, the pro-Spanish bloc inside Catalonia has managed, for the first time in five years, to emerge as a social force, demonstrating its weight in the streets with the October 21 march of tens of thousands of people. It has finally found an objective for which to fight. In this situation, the capacity to mobilize supporters will count for more than sympathies tending in one direction or the other. This, in fact, is a weak point for the independence forces. And this is why the December 21 campaign must be understood in relation to, and linked to, extra-electoral mobilizations (or their absence).

13. Unilateralism and fraternity. The opposition between a unilateral path (accumulating forces for the rupture from within Catalonia) and the option of building a political majority for change in the Spanish state as a whole has been one of the great strategic problems of Catalan and Spanish politics. In reality, unilateralism and fraternity should be seen as complementary. Without a unilateral pro-independence movement (and/or a referendum), no Spanish political forces would have arisen to defend the right to self-determination for Catalonia or to speak in favor of a negotiated resolution.

Unidos Podemos [as the alliance between the Podemos party and the United Left coalition led by the Communist Party is known] now supports such a resolution in response to the political reality created inside Catalonia by the movement. On the other hand, the perspective for a unilateral rupture — like the one proposed by the independence forces — irrespective of what happens outside of Catalonia is lacking because it doesn't take the overall political crisis in the Spanish state into account, forgetting that the Catalan independence movement can only hope to succeed because of this crisis.

Rather than seeing this as a strategic counterposition between two antagonistic approaches, the challenge is to find a strategic point where they can merge, based on a complex center-periphery dialectic. This implies linking, without liquidating, the pro-independence project with those forces that look to an internal rupture of the 1978 regime throughout the Spanish state. In a scenario where the pro-independence confrontation in Catalonia is being used by the conservative Popular Party and the entire state apparatus to close ranks and shift discourse to the right, this is a decisive issue. Seeking alliances and winning sympathy outside of Catalonia is, if not the main one, one of the great challenges for the Catalan independence movement — and of those who, without necessarily supporting independence, defend the movement's democratic challenge to the state.

There are three keys to accomplishing this: explicitly linking the defense of the Catalan Republic to the hope for a sister Spanish Republic in the future; not delinking hopes for independence from a possible future confederation between the rest of the Spanish state and Catalonia; and, in the immediate term, connecting independence to anti-austerity policies that can arouse sympathies from within the Spanish popular classes. Unfortunately, today, these proposals remain entirely absent from the strategic agenda of the independence movement's political leadership.

14. Another plebiscite? The independence movement has not yet defined its approach to the elections called by Rajoy for December 21. It may be facing a new sort of consultative plebiscite on independence as on September 27, 2015. Then, the argument went that winning a majority for independence in elections considered legitimate by independence opponents, the Spanish state and the European Union would put the Rajoy government in a very complex situation.

There is an element of truth in this argument. But, at the same time, it presents several problems. The first is that a seemingly endless debate centered around “Yes” or “No” for independence tends to divide the political and social bloc that was created during October 1 and 3, when forces beyond the independence movement joined in, including sectors of the democratic-rupturist left. Some of these forces may now vote for pro-independence parties such as CUP or ERC. But others will support forces that defend the right to self-determination, but not independence, such as the Catalonia in Comú party.

The second problem is that it is not clear — in a race where people are voting for political parties and not only on the question of independence — that pro-independence forces will secure 50 percent of the votes (for instance, they obtained 47.7 percent in 2015). In any case, accepting the framework of a plebiscite pushes the movement into seeking a technical majority, which may be only a limited victory.

The third problem is that the next steps after a possible victory of the independence movement are not clear. Saying December 21 will “validate” the declaration of independence on October 27 sounds good, but does not propose any real action plan for the day after.

15. Constituent hypothesis. Undoubtedly the December 21 election will have, whether it is promoted or not, a plebiscitary aspect, meaning people will see the elections as a de facto referendum on independence, as is to be expected. At the same time, a basic defensive element will be in play: the rejection of Article 155 and the demand for the freedom to organize along with amnesty for all those arrested and prosecuted.

The question is how to simultaneously set out a positive project, which includes a pro-democratic and anti-repressive dimension, as well as a plan for institutional resistance after December 21, but one that also goes beyond these components in order to establish alliances between the independence bloc and sectors that support Catalonia's right to decide, but not necessarily independence, such as Catalunya en Comú.

That is where the constituent hypothesis comes in — that is, a process that intentionally brings forces into dialogue and action as they create their own vision for radically restructuring the Catalan and Spanish state system/s. In one sense, the best possible development might be for all democratic forces opposed to Ciudidanos, the PP and the [neoliberal] Catalan Socialist Party bloc to establish some kind of agreement that, beyond basic anti-repression demands, would imply a constituent road map for a Catalan Republic whose horizon is compatible with either independence or a federal/confederation proposal. In sum, a constituent process can bring together forces to fight in unity for a break with the Spanish regime, while leaving the specifics of the outcome open.

Of course, we should note that a constituent framework is not without problems. The most important challenge is reaching an agreement between the independence bloc and Catalonia en Comú which does not now exist. The second problem is that, in the absence of a real political break inside the Catalan state institutions, proposals become merely rhetorical or symbolic institutional and social initiatives.

Although it remains fragile and uncertain, the constituent hypothesis — as a point of confluence between federalists/confederationists and independents remains the great unexplored potential for Catalan politics. For it to make sense, of course, it must champion urgent and tangible social measures that can broaden the social base of the democratic forces opposed to the reactionary bloc, inside and outside of Catalonia. Anti-repressive defensive struggles and a common positive perspective are difficult to articulate in the midst of today's difficult juncture — realities that can hardly be wished away if we want to build alliances on a sound footing.

16. Dilemmas. How should we conceive of our work: defensive battles against repression and Article 155, the struggle for a Catalan Republic, or a self-satisfied process in defense of an imaginary Republic? Should we counterpose independence to defending the right to decide or the potential for a common, future rupture? Is this an exclusively Catalan battle, should it be subordinated to politics in the Spanish state as a whole, or is it possible to articulate a center-periphery dialectic?

There is little doubt that we are facing a triple strategic dilemma as complex as it is inescapable. The question is whether it is also as unresolvable as it is decisive.

Monday, November 6, 2017

New mass resistance as Spanish state jails Catalan ministers

Bilbao march in solidarity with Catalonia

50,000 march in Bilbao, Basque country, in solidarity with Catalonia and political prisoners.

By Dick Nichols

Barcelona, November 4, 2017

Judge Carmen Lamela of Spain’s National High Court — direct descendant of the fascist Franco-era Court of Public Order — took the war of the Spanish state against the Catalan pro-independence government to a new level of judicial violence on November 2.

It was not enough that the two leaders of the Catalan mass pro-independence organisations the Catalan National Assembly (ANC) and Catalan cultural and language association Omnium Cultural, were already in jail. It was not enough that the Catalan government had been sacked on October 27 under article 155 of the Spanish constitution.

Now the deposed ministers had to be humiliated.

Facing charges of rebellion (up to 30 years jail), sedition (up to 15 years jail) and misuse of public money, eight of the ministers were sent into preventive detention, supposedly to prevent them destroying evidence and fleeing the Spanish state.

The decision immediately provoked a new huge storm of protest across Catalonia. There were demonstrations outside town halls and the country’s parliament and a deafening evening cassolada (banging of pots and pans). A planned November 12 demonstration in Barcelona looks set to be oceanic.

The minority, but rapidly growing, Intersindical-CSC trade union confederation has already called a general strike in the coming days.

The judge’s action was immediately denounced by Catalan President Carles Puigdemont, who is in Belgium with his remaining four ministers. It is expected they will soon be subject to a European arrest warrant, but it is far from certain that the Belgian legal system will return them to the Spanish state.

December 21 poll

The detentions will also impact the debate within Catalonia’s pro-independence and pro-sovereignty parties over the snap December 21 elections. The new elections were called by Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy as part of his plan to marginalise the Catalan independence movement.

Rajoy announced his intervention under article 155 of the Spanish constitution on the same day the Catalan parliament officially declared an independent republic. In the aftermath, a war of position was almost universally expected: Rajoy and Co would move to behead the Catalan government, sack its senior executives, purge the Catalan police, public broadcasting and education systems, offer election bribes to parts of the population and then — and only then — risk regional elections.

No other strategy seemed possible in a country where unionism (“constitutionalism” to its supporters) had won less than 40% of the vote at the September 2015 “plebiscitary” Catalan elections that put pro-independence forces into government.

So it was a surprise for all sides when Rajoy moved with lightning speed — for the first time in his political life — to call Catalan elections for December 21.

Three main factors determined this decision to go early. Firstly, confidence that the considerable body of pro-Spanish voters who traditionally don’t vote in Catalan elections could be mobilised by a hysterical campaign against secessionism. Secondly, hope that the pro-independence camp will split between those favouring a boycott of December 21 and those who support standing.

The third and most pressing need was to end, once and for all, the international debate about the legitimacy of recent Spanish state actions (such as sacking an elected government).

The biggest risk with Rajoy’s move is that it could create unity among the often fractious pro-independence and pro-sovereignty forces. This could occur behind an election campaign to validate the Catalan Republic declared by parliament on October 27, or behind a broader campaign to oppose Madrid’s 155 coup and build support for a Catalan right to decide.

At the time of writing, the Spanish People’s Party (PP) government’s hope of provoking a split between pro-independence forces in favour of a boycott and those who will stand on December 21 looks like failing. This seems especially so after Puigdemont announced at an October 31 Brussels media conference that the Catalan independence movement was not afraid of the ballot box.

The November 2 jailing of the ministers only makes a more united approach by forces deciding to stand more likely. The conservative nationalist Catalan European Democratic Party (PDECat) and the centre-left nationalist Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC), partners in the outgoing Together for the Yes (JxSi) ruling coalition, had previously both announced they would “meet Rajoy at the polls”. Media reports suggest opinion within the anti-capitalist pro-independence People’s Unity List (CUP) was also swinging that way.


The initial gut response of many pro-independence activists on hearing about Rajoy’s election announcement was to say the independence movement should boycott. This reaction did not just come from the CUP (whose MP Mireia Boya tweeted that it would be an ideal day for a community paella).

Members of PDECat and the ERC also condemned Rajoy’s elections as “illegitimate”. David Font, PDECat mayor of Gironella, said: “Let’s see if these elections Rajoy wants to have on December 21 he doesn’t have to have in the streets, because the councils aren’t going to provide halls.”

Joan Manuel Tresserras, close to the ERC and a former Catalan culture minister, told the daily Ara on October 30 that pro-independence forces should “certainly not” run on December 21.

He added: “Another thing would be if it wouldn’t be right to call the constituent elections [envisaged in the Catalan Law of Jurisdictional Transition] and, if necessary, even have them on the same day as those called by the Spanish government.

“It is important that the government make a proposal and that this be discussed and agreed with the CUP and the other components of the pro-independence bloc. If The Commons [Catalunya en Comu, the left-wing party of Barcelona mayor Adu Colau that supports the right to decide but not necessarily independence] are there too, all the better.”

Impact of Madrid’s coup

However, these sorts of projections were quickly invalidated by the real state of play in Catalonia resulting from Madrid’s coup. That brought the Catalan independence advance, and all the future projections arising from the October 27 independence declaration, to a halt.

The declaration of the independent Catalan Republic was, without doubt, an inspiring and proud moment for hundreds of thousands of Catalans. It was the result of a decade of struggle culminating in the extraordinary David-over-Goliath achievement of holding the October 1 referendum under assault from 10,000 Spanish state police.

It was also something that older generations of militants thought they would never live to see. Now the Catalan Republic lives in the hearts and minds of millions, and the Catalan struggle exists as never before as a spectre haunting European, and even world, politics.

Yet, just one week after the Spanish state takeover, most of the institutional structures of the Catalan Republic have been demolished:

  • The Catalan police have been brought under the control of the Spanish interior ministry and their previous chief sacked;
  • Police protection was withdrawn from Puigdemont and his ministers;
  • All Catalan diplomatic missions have been terminated, with the exception of Brussels, where the Catalan representative to the European Union has been sacked;
  • All Catalan agencies associated with the transition to independence have been closed down;
  • The parliament has been suspended, a state of affairs accepted by speaker Carme Forcadell; and
  • Puigdemont, his ministers, Forcadell and the other members of the speakership panel who allowed debate and the vote on independence face charges of rebellion and sedition.

In this situation, calling for the Puigdemont government to implement the resolutions attached to the declaration of independence is not realistic. His cabinet is in no condition to make them operative.

The impossibility of building and defending the institutions of the fledgling Catalan Republic after the Rajoy coup has made taking part in the December 21 poll inevitable: the thought of what the PP and Citizens would do with Catalonia’s institutions if they got their hands on them ultimately makes a boycott unthinkable.


However, the political force of the Puigdemont government has not vanished. The president’s October 31 Brussels media conference with five of his ministers, attended by 300 journalists, was proof of that.

Puigdemont appealed to the world about the basic questions at stake in the Catalan struggle: Do the Catalans have a right to self-determination? Is the Spanish constitution and legal system democratic? Was the October 1 referendum binding?

The goal of the conference was to appeal to the ordinary citizens of Europe over the heads of the European institutions that have lined up with the Rajoy government. This aimed at raising pressure for negotiations and dialogue, which several European leaders have talked about.

Puigdemont said he would accept the result of the December 21 election and challenged Rajoy to do the same. He also challenged the European Union and the international community to support Catalonia’s right to self-determination.

He denounced the legal action taken against his government for doing what it promised to do, and repeated the commitment of the government, pro-independence parties and mass movement to non-violent methods — even while calling on Catalans to resist Madrid’s assault on Catalonia’s institutions.

Puigdemont was also explaining to independence supporters in Catalonia thrown by the Madrid coup how the strategic position had changed, as well as putting the Spanish political and legal system on trial.

The beheading of the Catalan government in no way means popular resistance has ended, as the November 2 protests showed.

If the managers imposed from Madrid move against Catalonia’s firefighters, railway workers, teachers, health workers and other public servants, they will likely run into a wall of non-cooperation. They will face resistance organised through the most active trade union confederation and the Committees to Defend the Republic.

The country’s 750-plus pro-independence councils (out of a total of 947) will also continue to project the symbols of the Catalan Republic and organise what disobedience they deem possible in their “liberated zones”.

Approaches to December 21

This reality has led all pro-independence and pro-sovereignty forces in Catalonia — with the possible exception of the CUP that will decide its approach on November 12 — to accept the need to stand in Rajoy’s “illegitimate” December 21 election.

Before November 2, it seemed unlikely this campaign would see a new edition of the JxSi alliance between PDECat and ERC. This was despite ANC and Omnium Cultural pressing for a single pro-independence ticket, potentially headed by Jordi Sanchez and Jordi Cuixart, the jailed leaders of these mass organisations.

The right nationalist PDECat has been the big loser from the independence process (and is now down to 10% in the latest polls compared to 31% for its once junior partner the ERC). The mood in PDECat has been one of wanting to recover conservative Catalan voters unnerved by the independence process’s leftward shift.

Former business minister Santi Vila, who publicly opposed the October 27 independence declaration, has put himself forward as the leader of this “moderate independentism”. He will, however, be opposed by other PDECat leaders who remain loyal to Puigdemont and the independence process.

The ERC scheme for December 21 has been that of a “republican front” that excludes PDECat, while trying to attract unaffiliated independence activists and, in particular, Podemos Catalonia. Led by Albano Dante Fachin, Podemos Catalonia has fallen out with the Podemos leadership in the Spanish state over the latter’s refusal to ally with any pro-independence forces for December 21.

As for the campaign of Catalunya en Comu, it will be led by Xavier Domenech (presently leader of En Como Podem in the Spanish parliament). Its central theme will be defence of Catalonia’s institutions against Madrid’s intervention.

Podemos Catalonia, which is not part of Catalunya en Comu, has raised the possibility of a united campaign by all forces — pro-independence or not — that support a Catalan right to decide and oppose Rajoy’s planned destruction of Catalan autonomy.

However, Podemos Spanish-wide general secretary Pablo Iglesias publicly opposes an alliance with pro-independence forces. He judges it would destroy any chance of Catalonia en Comu winning support from working-class unionist voters — in Catalonia and across the Spanish state. Their vote would go to the PSC or even the new-right Citizens.

On October 29, the Podemos’ Spanish-state leadership instructed Podemos Catalonia to hold a membership poll with the question: “Do you support Podemos standing in the December 21 elections in coalition with Catalunya en Comu and related political forces that do not approve either the declaration of independence or the application of article 155, with the word Podemos in the name of the coalition and on the voting paper?”

The Iglesias leadership is almost certain to win this ballot — which Fachin is boycotting — but that result won’t solve the challenge that the November 2 arrests have dramatised.

That challenge is how to maximise support for pro-independence and pro-sovereignty forces in the face of what is certain to be a brutal campaign aimed at scaring every last doubter about Catalan independence to vote for the unionist parties.

To stand a chance of defeating it, Catalunya en Comu will have to do more than just saying, as it has to date, “neither 155 nor the unilateral declaration of independence”.

[Dick Nichols is Green Left Weekly’s European correspondent, based in Barcelona. He is running a live blog on the Catalan struggle for independence.]

* * *

Postscriptum. As a contribution to the debate on electoral strategy in Catalonia, I recommend the following comment by Borja de Rique, an eminent Catalan historian, which I have extracted from his article in Viento Sur “Poner los pies en el suelo.” My translation from the Spanish version published in Viento Sur on November 1, 2017. (Richard Fidler)

It is quite clear that we must participate in the elections of December 21 although they have been called by the government in Madrid. Not to participate would be an act of folly. We would run the risk that Ms. Arrimadas [leader of the Catalan Citizens party] would become president of the Generalitat [the Catalan government] and that this institution would then be converted into a type of provincial office subject to the directives of the Spanish government. In my opinion, we have to run in the elections defending anti-repression and pro-sovereignty approaches. Today the political dividing line is situated — as has been sufficiently clear since the Sunday demonstration — between those who support the application of article 155 and those who are opposed; between those who think it is fundamental to demand the democratic right of the Catalan people to decide their future and those who argue that the citizens of Catalonia do not have that right.

A few days ago I was defending the formation of a unitary candidacy, similar to Solidaritat Catalana, including persons from the political formations and the citizens’ organizations that for more than seven years have declared themselves in favour of the right to decide. Faced with the difficulties that this can involve, and taking into account the recent statements by the party leaders, I think that at a minimum it will be necessary to ask them to include the following three demands as common and priority elements of their programs. First, the release of those detained and the stay of proceedings in all of the criminal charges, fines and sanctions of a political character. Second, the demand for immediate repeal of the application of article 155 to the Generalitat. And finally, the demand for a binding referendum with guarantees concerning the future of Catalonia.

If it can be demonstrated with real votes that more than two thirds of the citizens of Catalonia wish to be consulted in a binding referendum, reject the application of 155 and demand amnesty, that will demonstrate to international opinion the intransigence and political blindness of the Rajoy government and favour the possibilities for mediation to attain a referendum.

It may also be necessary to think about a program for government with broad parliamentary support that after the electoral victory will rigorously ensure that this program is carried out. We have to be realistic: even after a hypothetical victory, we will face a long period of tensions with the government in Madrid and their international counterparts. Nor should we discount the need for a unitary Catalan strategy of intervention in Spanish politics to try to get Mariano Rajoy and the PP out of the government in Madrid and create a political scenario more favourable to negotiation.

Things being what they are, it is necessary to avoid the political confrontation being centered on the Catalan Republic, the proclamation of which was questionable. That is not the dilemma that must be put to citizens in the forthcoming elections. The pro-sovereignty movement must go on increasing its strength and not risk losing it. There are social sectors that until very recently were in an expectant position, with doubts about the process, but who were not hostile to it and who were angered by the police brutality of October 1. We must not lose that social layer, which may be electorally decisive at a time when the forces defending article 155 are mobilizing people who until recently were fairly passive and indifferent. I think that the political alternative to the unionist sectors should be clearly centered, combined with the aforementioned anti-repression demands, on the demand for a democratic consultation on the future of Catalonia that is fully guaranteed.