A tumultuous week in the struggle over Catalonia saw a declaration of independence followed by the imposition of direct rule by the Spanish state.
The initiative was firmly in the hands of Spanish Tory prime minister Mariano Rajoy as Socialist Worker went to press on Tuesday. This was due to leading Catalan politicians’ indecision and cowardice.
There is still potential to turn the situation around as the movement that stopped Rajoy’s attempt to outlaw the 1 October independence referendum has not been defeated.
Only resistance from below, centred on working class organisation, can win.
Catalonia’s parliament declared independence last Friday. Spanish MPs immediately gave Rajoy powers, under Article 155 of the constitution, to impose direct rule.
He dissolved the Catalan devolved government and parliament for snap elections on 21 December.
And Spanish authorities announced on Monday that they were bringing charges of “rebellion” against independence leaders.
Catalan government workers formed a “human chain” outside the main government building in Girona. Silvia Rispau, one of the organisers, told Socialist Worker, “We held a mass assembly last week.
“It passed a manifesto saying that we are not afraid of Article 155 and remain faithful to the legality of the Catalan parliament.”
A few ministers did go into work for part of the day as expected.
But parliament’s leaders accepted its dissolution and deposed Catalan president Carles Puigdemont fled to Brussels with half of his government.
Silvia said, “I’d expected that the government would refuse to comply with Article 155 and pass decrees to establish a republic. Then we could implement it in the streets.
“We have put plans for strikes and blockades on the table. But the actions of the government are so erratic that we do not know what to do.”
The biggest unions opposed the declaration of independence and ruled out strikes this week. Smaller unions that support independence then suspended their own strike call.
But this isn’t set in stone. After Rajoy’s repression of the referendum even the big, anti-independence unions joined the call for a general strike in outrage.
But Catalan independence must be defended. It would be a blow to the rotten European establishment, and create a space for ordinary people to have a say about what would replace Spanish rule.
The self-activity of masses of working class people would make it worth fighting for—and that’s now the only force capable of making it happen.
Puigdemont unsuccessfully seeks compromise with Spanish state
Catalonia's parliament has meekly accepted fresh elections imposed by Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy. The aim of the elections is to overturn the democratic mandate of the 1 October independence referendum.
And Catalan president Carles Puigdemont had even tried to call them himself in a bid to appease Rajoy (see right).
At a press conference in Brussels on Tuesday, Puigdemont said he would recognise the elections. But he accepted that the elections went down badly with neighbourhood Committees to Defend the Republic (CDR).
Student Marina Morante was part of a CDR which occupied a polling station to keep it open in the Barcelona neighbourhood of Nou Barris.
“If the Spanish government had agreed to withdraw Article 155 in return for new elections, the mandate of 1 October would have been reduced to nothing,” she told Socialist Worker.
Some Catalan parties have presented the elections as an opportunity to gain more pro?independence MPs.
But Sergi Sabria from the ERC party, which was part of the governing coalition, called the “illegitimate elections” a “trap”.
And Marina said, “These elections are the best bet of the Spanish state to restore constitutional order in Catalonia.
“The only reason repression has not begun in Catalonia is that the state is aware people would not swallow the elections if it did.This shows us that to accept the elections is to go backwards.”
The anti-capitalist, pro?independence CUP was discussing its position on the elections as Socialist Worker went to press.
Puigdemont’s strategy since 1 October was to make any concession in order to win the right to negotiate with Rajoy, preferably with mediation from the European Union (EU). But the EU has shown itself to be the enemy of Catalan independence.
The kindest interpretation of Puigdemont’s strategy is that he’s exposing the unreasonableness of his opponents.
The truth is simpler. Marina said, “They were looking for any opportunity to avoid applying the popular mandate.
“The independence movement can shake the elites.
“Let’s not forget that our supposed allies are part of these elites, and that they are willing to do anything to keep their privileges.”
U-turn by government shows power of masses
Much of the focus has been on the manoeuvres of Catalan and Spanish politicians, reducing the masses to bystanders.
But a rapid U-turn by Puigdemont last week showed the effect of mobilisations from below.
Responding to an offer of mediation by his Basque counterpart and a group of Catalan bosses, he attempted to call elections.
An announcement was scheduled, and some of his MPs even announced they were resigning ready to contest the elections.
There was immediate outrage on social media. More importantly, tens of thousands of students were protesting in Barcelona as part of a two-day student strike against Spanish repression. Marina told Socialist Worker, “Everyone was very angry when we heard the news. We went to the central square, Plaza de Sant Jaume, to watch Puigdemont speak. People were shouting, ‘Independent republic,’ and, ‘Puigdemont resign!’”
Puigdemont cancelled his announcement and opened the door for parliament to declare independence.
David Karvala of Barcelona-based socialist group Marx21 described the declaration of independence as “a product of decades of social struggles in Catalonia”.
“Many people hearing the declaration of independence cried. Some have been fighting for this for decades,” he wrote in Socialist Worker online last week.
“People have gone to prison. In 1992 before the Olympic Games in Barcelona, the authorities put hundreds of independence supporters in prison without trial to get them out of the way.
“Even now, Jordi Sanchez and Jordi Cuixart, the leaders of the two main independence campaigns are in prison awaiting trial for ‘sedition’.”
Left split on independence
Most of the Spanish left opposes Catalan independence. The Labour-type Socialists have lined up with the Tories.
And the Communist Party-led United Left, and newer party Podemos, have tried to oppose both the repression and the moves to independence.
They don’t want to risk losing votes by supporting an issue that’s unpopular with many in the rest of the Spanish state.
And their strategy for winning change involves running the state—so they don’t want to weaken it.
The Catalan left’s largest forces are strongly for independence. This has caused tensions in Podem, the Catalan section of Podemos. Podemos’s leaders took over Podem on Monday.
Podem couldn’t guarantee that its MPs had voted against independence and didn’t rule out boycotting the election. Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias forced it to ballot its supporters on joining an anti-independence left blo
Repression boosts fascists
Thousands of people marched against fascism in Valencia on Saturday.
Fascists had attacked a march on 9 October celebrating the national day of the Valencia region.
Valencia speaks a dialect of Catalan.
Spanish unity demonstrations called by the mainstream right against Catalan independence have given fascist groups a platform.
And organisers’ refusal to denounce the fascists has given them new legitimacy.
The far right hasn’t had the breakthrough in the Spanish state that it has elsewhere in Europe.
But the repression and nationalism being wielded against the Catalan independence movement risks changing that.