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1 million marched in Barcelona on the Catalan national day in favour of independence

Catalonia: Spanish state repression as independence referendum approaches

Statement from Esquerra Revolucionària (Revolutionary Left) 

On the 11th September one million people spilled onto the streets of Barcelona shouting loud and clear their intention to vote during the 1st October referendum, making it clear that they were not going to let the ruling Partido Popular (People’s Party/PP) deny them this right.

Yet again, as has happened on each Diada [‘National Day of Catalonia’] since 2012, the Catalan people have demanded their right to democratically decide what links they wish to maintain with the rest of the Spanish state, including their legitimate right to independence.

Against this protest in support of the right to decide, which the Catalan people are overwhelmingly in favour of (as confirmed by all the polls) backed up by increasing support from the those who live in the Spanish state, as a whole, the PP government and the Spanish bourgeois are using repressive measures not seen since the Francoist dictatorship; police raids and continual harassment against the press; judicial intervention to prevent a political event from taking place in Madrid concerning the right of self-determination; news censorship preventing the Catalan TV channel 3 from showing content on the referendum.

 The offensive has taken unprecedented steps and not just against freedom of expression and association. The imposition of a judicial and police siege to control mayors who have pledged their support in preparing local facilities for voting or the order of the Catalan state public prosecution service, at the behest of the Spanish State’s public prosecution service, compelling the Mossos d’Esquadra (Catalan civil guard) to locate and confiscate ballot boxes, represents the open use of the state apparatus in an attempt to defeat the will of millions of Catalans by use of force. Mendez de Vigo, a spokesman for the Spanish government, threatened volunteers who help to organise the referendum with prison: “You know that you are participating in a criminal act”.

All of this escalating repression, enthusiastically supported by Spanish nationalism, the PP, Cuidadanos and, unfortunately, also supported by the current PSOE [Partido Socialista Obrero Español  – social democratic party] leadership, could result in the suspension of the Catalan government and parliament if ultimately Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and leader of the People’s Party, decides to invoke article 155 of the constitution. We are witnessing the putting into practice of a strategy taken straight out of a manual of the old Franco dictatorship. This is not propaganda; the facts reveal the true character of the Spanish State, the army, the judiciary and its laws, as all part of the legacy of Francoism.

The causes of the movement and position of the parliamentary Left

The real fuel that feeds the “process”, beyond the manoeuvres of Carles Puigdemont [President of the Generalitat of Catalonia] or the parliamentary support that he receives from the ERC [Republican Left of Catalonia] or the CUP [Popular Unity Candidacy], is pent up anger of millions of workers and youth and a large sector of the middle layers in society. They are fed up of seeing dreams and national democratic rights constantly trampled on by the central government and the institutions of the Spanish state. They are fed up with having their right to decide denied on this and other occasions, of suffering a savage reduction in their living standards and the state of their local communities over the last nine years of capitalist crisis. During this time, the average income of Catalan families has fallen by 20% and poverty now affects one in every three minors under 18.

Against this, while a handful of parasites and corrupt individuals fill their pockets, the policies of cutbacks and austerity, the precariousness of work and low pay, the lack of hope for the youth, have become a permanent aspect of the social landscape. This is why, although the State may mobilise all its powers of repression and may seek to prevent the use the ballot boxes, the anger and social unrest opposing national and social oppression can only grow.

 The idea that the referendum on 1 October signifies a Coup d’Etat and an imposition on a sector of the Catalan people is one of the biggest lies that the media are peddling on behalf of the bourgeois and an absurd one at that. If the state, the PP and those parties who are subordinate to them are so sure that the pro-independents are in a minority, why not accept the ballot boxes? Why prevent a vote? Why is it acceptable in Venezuela but not in Catalonia? Whoever is not in favour of independence can decline to vote or vote against it. The reason behind this is that the right wing and the State want to deny the majority: That the Catalan people have the right to decide and that Catalonia has the right to be a nation state. Its position is no more than a continuation of the political line that the Spanish bourgeois have always pursued, together with the centralist state, in most instances by crushing the national-democratic aspirations of Catalonia, the Basque Country and Galicia, with a military hand. This is exactly what happened under the Francoist dictatorship. Since the ‘Transition to Democracy’ any enhancement of rights has always come only as a result of mass mobilisations.

 In this context, the PSOE leadership, with Pedro Sanchez at its head, has hitched its carriage to the PP’s line “in defence of the rule of law”. PSOE ordered the PSC (PSOE in Catalonia) mayors to go against their own citizens by giving preference to obedience to the State. In this way, the leaders of PSOE have (together with a series of intellectuals who describe themselves as “left” or “progressive”) joined forces with the chorus of opinion that promote Rajoy by putting forward the ‘dignified’ arguments of NODO (the news channel that the Franco dictatorship used to paint a rosy picture of Spain). To compare the intervention of Carmen Forcadell, the Speaker of the Catalan Parliament, to allow the Catalan chamber to vote on the law calling for a referendum, with the right wing Coup d’état of 23 February,  1981, as Almudena Grandes (academic, supporter of the left and columnist for El Pais) has, is to completely lose your direction politically. To speak of imposition, a blow to democracy and things like this just goes to show how far removed you can become when you abandon an anti-capitalist, class-based perspective to the national question.

Millions of people in Catalonia and outside hoped that Podemos leaders, Pablo Iglesias and Arda Colau, would place themselves at the head of the struggle against the state repression and in defence of the right to decide. Before the summer, Pablo Iglesias promised to confront the government if they attempted to prevent the referendum from going ahead. However, instead of going from words to deed, both he and Arda Colau continue to insist that the referendum must be a “binding agreement”. But agreement with who? With the same state that banned political events, imposed censorship and threatened political leaders with imprisonment for the crime of setting up ballot boxes to enable people to vote? And who would ensure the agreement would be binding – Rajoy, Saenz de Santamaria and the rest of the corrupt PP representatives? The inheritors of Francoism and supporters of the gagging law? Or perhaps the royal family and the bourgeoisie, the same people who sell arms to reactionary regimes who finance jihadi terrorism, those who make money form sponsoring imperialist wars, closing down businesses and plundering the public purse?

The absence of a consistent struggle by the leadership of Podemos against the repression of the state has caused a stir amongst its rank and file, especially in Catalonia. Correctly, Albano Dante Fachin – General Secretary of Podemos in Catalonia – expressed this general unrest by defending the mobilisation on the streets in order to win the right to decide on the 1 October. In doing so, he distanced himself from statements against the referendum made by Coscubiela, the parliamentary spokesperson for ‘Catalunya Si es Pot’ (‘Catalonia Yes we Can’ coalition) and supported by the Right. Dante Fachin reminded people that the origins of Podemos and its strength lay in mobilisations on the streets and not in giving in to the institutions. This is 100% correct. 

 The ambiguous and vacillating position of the leaders of Podemos and Catalunya en Comu [Catalonia in Common] is all the more unacceptable when we consider the experience of the movements of 15-M or the PAH (anti-eviction movement). Did the 15-M movement seek agreement with or respect the institutional channels when the same State that today seeks to prevent the referendum, declared demonstrations and occupations illegal? No, it absolutely did not! It based itself on the mobilisation of the masses and defied all attempts to clamp down on them. This is what earned Pablo Iglesias [Podemos’s Secretary-General] and Podemos [“We can”] itself and Arda Colau the respect of and recognition of millions of people. Has Arda Colau [one of the founding members and spokespeople of the ‘Platform for People Affected by Mortgages’ and Mayor of Barcelona], forgotten how those people who attacked her for putting the democratic and social rights of the majority before the arguments in defence of property, the law and respect for the State, are the same people who are attacking the referendum today?

In the end the pressure from below was so strong that Arda Colau was forced to promise that local councils would make public space available in Barcelona to allow those who wanted to exercise their right to vote to be able to do so. The same has happened with the rank and file in Catalunya en Comu, where a majority have declared themselves to be in favour of the right to participate in the referendum.

 For a massive mobilisation to win the right to vote in response to the repression of the State! For a Socialist Republic of Catalonia!

 The Spanish bourgeois and the PP, in spite of all the resources available to them, remain very weak as evidenced by their inability to organise any type of mobilisation “in defence of Spanish unity”, neither in Catalonia nor in any other part of Spain.

And this weakness is what forces sections of the PP and Cuidadanos [‘Party of the Citizenry’], the media circus that accompanies them and not a few reactionary and Spanish nationalist elements in PSOE, such as Alfonzo Guerra, to demand the application of article 155 of the constitution that would suspend Catalan autonomy. Various members of the government have confirmed that for the moment they are not considering this option but neither do they rule it out. However to invoke this article would represent a qualitative leap and the consequences would be unpredictable.

Not only would this represent a new demonstration of the reactionary and anti-democratic character of the Spanish monarchical constitution of 1978 but also something so far-reaching would require brutal repression. Only the most obtuse and fanatical reactionaries could fail to see that such a manoeuvre could unleash a social explosion in Catalonia and the entrance of the workers movement onto the scene to resist such brutal repression. It would be difficult now to prevent a referendum from taking place without doing away with a democratic conquest that was won during the 1970’s through mass mobilisation of the population against the dictatorship, and this is burnt into the collective memory. In these circumstances, it would be very difficult to prevent a general strike from taking place in Catalonia and it would also cause a mass movement in the rest of the State. Esquerra Revolucionaria and the Sindicat d’Estudiants (Revolutionary Left and the students union) would lead the call for the occupation of secondary schools and universities, calling for a general indefinite strike in the education sector until reaction was defeated.

The most far sighted sections of the Catalan, Spanish and European bourgeoisie recognise this danger and are persistently appealing to Rajoy to avoid the use of “extreme measures” in his attempts to prevent the referendum. For example, the newspaper El Pais, that has not hesitated in showing its furious opposition concerning Catalan autonomy, which has shown great restraint in respect to article 155, calling on Rajoy to resist pressure from the hard liners. La Vanguardia newspaper, mouthpiece of the Catalan bourgeoisie, issued a desperate plea for this clash not to get out of hand and developing a logic of its own: “Let’s confine the tragedies of the past to the history books. Democratic Europe is watching us”. But, in part, at least, this is what is happening. Even the Financial Times fiercely criticised Rajoy’s “inflexible” approach towards the Catalan problem.

For the moment, the Spanish bourgeoisie have decided to continue to direct their repression at the public figures within the Catalan government and use the their own Mossos d’Esquadra [police force of Catalonia] to adopt measures, such as confiscating ballot boxes (avoiding any photos showing Gaurdia Civil or the Spanish army doing so). The fact that the “major” of the Mossos, Josep Lluís Trapero, presented as a hero by the PDeCAT [Catalan European Democratic Party], and some independence leaders after the attacks of August, took less than six hours to abide by the decision of the State and to broadcast his orders, demonstrates the fallacy that any challenge to the bourgeoisie can be carried out “using the existing institutions”. But even if they try to reduce the media impact, the repression of the 1 October referendum will inevitably throw much more fuel into the fire and further aggravate the national problem in Catalonia, and one could not rule out a social revolt in the medium term.

The only thing that has prevented (up to now) enormous social unrest that exists in Catalonia becoming part of a social rebellion to defeat the State, the PP and its capitalist policies, is that the left has declined to put itself at the head of this great movement of masses with a programme that unites the struggle for self-determination with the economic and social demands needed by the majority of the working class, youth and middle layers. The fact that the formal leadership of this struggle against the State and the PP government has been handed over to PDeCAT has allowed these reactionary bourgeois politicians to appear as martyrs of “democracy” and this has allowed them to maintain divisions amongst the working class. The leadership of the “process” on the part of the PDeCAT, as defended by the leaders of CUP and ERC, does not assist the struggle but holds it back. Even from the point of view of defending national rights, the leaders of the PDeCAT have sought every possible excuse to postpone the referendum or not to convene it. Ultimately, it was the pressure of the movement and the prospect of them losing massively in the elections that lead them to fix a date for the referendum (with many internal divisions).

In fact, those millions of young people and workers who did not vote on the 9 November or who did not attend the Diada, do not reject the right to decide. Many of them have mobilized against cuts, evictions, corruption and everything represented by the PP. If they have not done the same in support of the referendum, it is because Puigdemont or Mas, those from the Palau Case and the corruption plot of the 3%, have always been on the side of the PP against the workers, supporting labour reforms, cuts in health and education, and privatizations. But even that could change if the PP opts for mass repression: quantity can be transformed into quality and bring about a social rebellion that goes beyond the framework of the national question.

At this time, it would be perfectly possible to unite the millions who are already mobilized and willing to defend the referendum in the streets with those who reject repression but distrust PDeCAT. If the leaders of the left in the Spanish State and Catalan called for the massive mobilization of the working class, youth and middle layers, inside and outside Catalonia, in favour of the right to decide on the 1 October, against PP and repression of State, they would clearly distinguish themselves from the PDeCAT – something that the CUP should do immediately by breaking its parliamentary pact with the Catalan right. They could link this battle with the fight against cuts, for decent employment, in defence of public health and education, it would not only be possible to stop the repression but to overthrow the reactionary government of Rajoy and the equally right-wing government of Puigdemont, and open the way to a left-wing government and a socialist republic of Catalonia.

The only way to enforce the right of self-determination is to unify the vast majority of the population in Catalonia with the powerful Catalan working class at its head. This needs to be done around a programme that links inseparably, like two sides of the same coin, the struggle for self-determination and the struggle against capitalism. It is impossible to achieve genuine social and national liberation of Catalonia at the hands of Catalan bourgeoisie. Even if independence were achieved, a Catalan capitalist republic would mean that the cuts and attacks on the working class would continue.

As Esquerra Revolucionària we fight for a Catalan socialist republic, that puts a stop to the cuts, guaranteeing a high quality, public education and health service; which would solve the problem of mass unemployment, creating millions of jobs with decent wages and rights; puts an end to evictions, establishing a plan of public housing with social rents that will end property speculation; that nationalizes the banking sector and large corporations, making the wealth service the needs of the majority of society and putting an end to the multimillion-dollar fortunes of a handful of corrupt and parasitic individuals.

A Catalan socialist republic would generate overwhelming support among the workers of the rest of the Spanish State (who have the same enemy, the bourgeoisie, and suffer the same attacks and cuts) and in all the other countries of Europe, opening a powerful path for social transformation and the liberation of all oppressed peoples.