Every Nation by itself or united for a different Europe?

The Catalan national struggle and the left in the Spanish state—a dossier

Introduction and translations by Dick Nichols

 

September 10, 2017 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal — The June 9 decision of Catalonia’s pro-independence Together For The Yes (JxSí) government to hold a referendum on whether the country should become “an independent state in the form of a republic” has created a raft of differences within the Catalan and all-Spanish left. The decision came after all efforts at a negotiating a Scottish-style referendum with the Spanish government had come to naught.[1]

Besides the social-democratic Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) and its regional affiliates, nearly all left currents in Spain support the right to self-determination of the peoples of the Spanish State[2]: they differ, however, over how that right should be concretely exercised.

The decision of the Catalan government of premier Carles Puigdemont to hold the binding referendum on October 1 has generated four broad classes of response within the Catalan and Spanish left. At one end of the spectrum of difference lie those who support the referendum: the centre-left nationalist Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC), which participates in the JxSí government, and the left nationalist People’s Unity List (CUP), which does not. A minority within Podem Catalunya, the Catalan affiliate of the all-Spanish Podemos, also supports the referendum as a binding consultation. Within Podemos, the Anticapitalists current, with the support of around 10% to 13% of the membership, also calls for the radical anti-austerity formation to accept October 1 as binding. Within the all-Spanish United Left (IU) small minorities have also expressed the same position.

Various individuals with an activist history in the former United Socialist Party of Catalonia (PSUC) — founded in 1936, major force in the struggle against the Franco dictatorship and Catalan sister organisation of the Communist Party of Spain (PCE) — have also subscribed to manifestos supporting October 1 as a genuine referendum. Such statements include:

A September 4 statement from former PSUC councillors, trade unionists and neighbourhood association activists. These view October 1 as an opportunity to conclude the unfinished business of the 1977 transition from the Franco dictatorship and of the 1978 Spanish constitution. Their statement reads: “Forty years later the serious shortcomings of that agreement stand out. What also stands out is that the Spanish State is not prepared to undergo a genuine democratisation in the absence of a “shock therapy” that removes its structures of political and economic power. In the here and now this shock therapy goes by the names of [Catalan] Republic and Referendum.”

The platform “Communists For The Yes”, covering organisations and individuals from all parts of the Catalan left who identify as communist —for example, from the ERC Youth (JERC) to former PSUC activists, to CUP affiliate organisations like Poble Lliure. The platform’s manifesto in part reads: “The active defence of the right to self-determination and the national rights of the Catalan people invariably involves giving support and backing to the calling of the referendum. This democratic demand, denied—like others—by the State, will thus have a unilateral and disobedient character in an unprecedented scenario that more than ever contains an element of revolutionary and democratic breakthrough. We communists must take advantage of this fact to raise the people of Catalonia’s level of consciousness and resistance.”

At the other end of the spectrum lie those for whom the referendum is fundamentally an operation by the Catalan political right to keep itself in power. This is the case of the manifesto “October 1: We’re Not Going” (document number two), which originated as a resolution to the July 8 Coordinating Committee meeting of Catalunya en Comú (Catalonia Together or Catalonia in Common).

Another expression of rejection of October 1 comes from Catalan film-maker and script writer Isabel Coixet (document number three): she stresses the supposedly exclusionary nature of Catalan nationalism, allegedly superior in its attitudes to the other peoples of the Spanish state.

As for Catalunya en Comú, it brings together Initiative for Catalonia-Greens (ICV), the United and Alternative Left (EUiA, the Catalan sister organisation of the all-Spanish United Left), Barcelona en Comú (the platform which won control of Barcelona Council in May 2015), and the Catalan affiliate of the all-Spanish ecological party Equo. Although Catalunya en Comú is supported by the leadership of Podemos in the Spanish state, its Catalan sister organisation (Podem Catalunya) voted to stay outside the new formation when it was founded.[3]

Catalunya en Comú’s founding congress had to choose between three resolutions covering the party’s orientation to the Catalan national struggle: one federalist, one inclined to support independence and a majority compromise position favouring Catalonia’s participation in a mutually agreed but constitutionally unspecified relation with the other peoples of the Spanish state. While not detailing the sort of referendum the party could support, at the Catalunya en Comú congress newly elected leader Xavier Domènech did not exclude support for a unilateral referendum so long as it met certain guarantees. Since then Catalunya en Comú has itself increasingly become a battleground among the various attitudes towards October 1.

Between the two antagonistic poles noted above come those left forces and individuals who support October 1—but not as a binding referendum. Here we find two basic sub-groups: those who support the day “as a mobilisation” in favour of Catalan rights and against the central PP government, but do not call on people to participate by voting; and those who call for people to vote, but without accepting that the result should be binding.

Within the camp of the commons and Podemos, the first position is held by Podemos general secretary Pablo Iglesias and Xavier Domènech (see their joint article, document one), while Podem Catalunya supports the latter position. Iglesias stated on July 7 that if he were a Catalan, he would not vote on October 1, while Podem Catalunya leader Albano-Dante Fachin announced on the same day that Podem Catalunya’s position was for people to participate by voting.

The same division has appeared between the United Left and EUiA. On July 10, United Left federal coordinator Alberto Garzón said he could not vote in a referendum that did not contain a federal option while EUiA coordinator Joan Josep Nuet had already announced on June 13 that he could not abstain from voting in a consultation that a majority of Catalans support.

On September 5, a further position emerged from within the commons[4], when Barcelona deputy mayor Gerardo Pisarello broke the careful ambiguity of Barcelona en Comú by publishing a call for participation that included the possibility of people considering a “critical Yes” vote against the authoritarian brutality of the PP government (see document five).

All these differences have gotten their sharpest expression in the 11-member caucus of Catalonia Yes We Can (CSQEP) in the Catalan parliament. CQSEP contains Podem Catalunya and the affiliates of Catalunya en Comú minus Barcelona en Comú, which did not participate in its founding for the 2015 Catalan elections. Faced with having to decide its position on the law enabling the referendum, the CSQEP caucus was initially divided between those inclined to vote in favour, including three of Podem’s four MPs; those who were opposed, including caucus spokesperson Joan Coscubiela and caucus leader Lluis Rabell; and those who supported abstention (including Joan Josep Nuet).

At the September 6 vote on the legislation governing the referendum, the CSQEP caucus managed to maintain unity with an agreement to abstain. However, an agreement that a Podem Catalunya spokesperson and a ICV spokesperson would share the time available for a closing presentation of position was broken by CSQEP spokesperson Coscubiela. At the time of writing, the future of CSQEP as a united caucus of the non-independentist left in the Catalan parliament is in question.

This variety of positions has inevitably produced polemics across the Spanish and Catalan left, polemics that have also revisited classic debates in the Marxist movement on the right of nations to self-determination. To date, probably the most important of these (see document four) has been the debate between the CUP’s Pau Llonch, the United Left’s Alberto Garzón and Josep Maria Antentas of Global Revolt (Catalan sister organisation of Anticapitalists).

What follows is the first in a series of English translations of Spanish and Catalan left texts about the Catalan national struggle. The idea is to present the variety of opinions and the debates within them in an unfiltered way. This approach necessarily involves a considerable number of footnotes explaining references unknown to many readers of Links. Hopefully, these have been kept to the minimum necessary for understanding the context in which the crucial struggle for Catalan self-determination is taking place.

Any queries readers might have about these texts can be sent to eurodesk@greenleft.org.au.

Notes

[1] At the time of writing (September 8) the decisive confrontation has begun: on September 6 the Catalan parliament adopted the legislation enabling October 1 and the central Spanish government of prime minister Mariano Rajoy immediately appealed to the Constitutional Court for it to be suspended, which the court did on September 7.

[2] In Spain the “State” refers to the central Spanish government. Its 17 regional governments (“states” in Australian terms) are called autonomous communities.

[3] See here for further coverage.

[4] The three formations Barcelona en Comú (running Barcelona Council), En Comú Podem (Together We Can, the largest Catalan force in the Spanish parliament) and Catalunya en Comú are collectively known as the commons.

 

Catalonia:’un sol poble’ We assert the legitimacy of October 1 as a political mobilisation and support its taking place

By Pablo Iglesias and Xavier Domènech[1]

The crisis of 2008 opened a period of crisis of sovereignties, both in Spain and Catalonia. Being up to the challenge of these times means having to confront the fact that the aggression of right-wing social forces is at heart an issue of sovereignties, one that can only be resolved democratically. Corruption and the plundering of the public sphere, the norm of government of the old ruling parties in both Spain and Catalonia,[2] are the clearest expression of the crisis of popular sovereignties. Corruption and the plundering of the public sphere are, in fact, the main threat to popular sovereignty and without popular sovereignty there can be no national sovereignty.

Our no-confidence motion against the PP[3] put a proposal for Catalonia and Spain on the table that goes beyond the projects of our political organisations. The PP managed to struggle to survive in Congress[4], attracting less votes against the motion than those supporting it and those abstaining, but it suffered a moral, political and above all historical defeat. The main feature of the bloc against change formed by the PP and Citizens is that they have no project, neither for Catalonia nor for Spain.

In our no-confidence motion we made a double commitment. In the first place, to implement the right to decide as recognition of Catalonia’s sovereignty. Secondly, on the assumption of Catalan sovereignty, to spell out a model of plurinational territorial organisation that would not rule out discussion of a confederal arrangement.

We were alone when we started talking, in Catalonia and the State as a whole, about plurinationality and when we stated that plurinationality is not only a “cultural” fact of life but also implies acceptance of all the consequences of living in a shared space where various nations and sovereignties co-exist. We also found ourselves alone in defending a referendum for Catalonia while others promised solutions where everything would be done and decided in 18 months.[5] At the time we met with condescension and a lot of aggression, but today increasingly broader social sectors across the whole of the Spanish state acknowledge the reality of plurinationality and the need for an effective referendum in Catalonia. And this has forced shifts of position from all political protagonists, especially the PSC and PSOE.[6]

It’s no news that the issue of sovereignties is an historical problem that can only be resolved democratically. It’s obvious that a Catalan demos exists that makes Catalonia a political subject: the proof is that only the citizens of Catalonia were consulted by referendum about the Statute.[7] The enormous blunder of the PP in forcing the 2010 ruling of the Constitutional Court destroyed the territorial consensus of 1978[8], which was not so much that as a deal for a reluctant and hesitant acceptance of sovereignties. The PP showed not only that it didn’t understand Catalonia, but that it didn’t even understand Spain. This breach created by the incompetence of the party that holds the Spanish state hostage can only be closed through a pact with the right to decide at its centre.

When we defended this position we also found ourselves alone in the middle of irresponsible criticism by political spokespeople who stated without a blush that ours was an “outdated scenario” and that independence was just around the corner. However, over the 18 months of its initial “road map”, the Catalan governing majority–built around a deal over the premiership, the divvying-up of conselleries and the approval of a budget “made by Convergence”[9] –decided to again take up the proposal for a referendum. Time will tell whether this change is due to a real rectification of position reflective of Catalonia’s real, social majorities or whether it is one more attempt at emergency landing by an accident-stricken incumbency.

Let’s be clear: Catalonia is a nation that wants to decide its future and to achieve that needs to keep building alliances in the struggle for sovereignties in the whole of Spain. It is wilful blindness to say that nothing has changed in Spain over the past three years.

This is the context in which the calling of the October 1 referendum should be set. In our opinion, October 1 is taking shape more as a vast mobilisation in favour of the right to decide and as an expression of the desire for sovereignty than as an open and public discussion about what status and juridical relations the citizens of Catalonia want. The reason is obvious and we are perfectly clear about it: the PP government denies the existence of the Catalan demos and is counting on repression. For the PP, Catalonia is only a device for diverting attention from its own corruption.

That is why the October 1 mobilisation can be an act of affirming rights and sovereignty in the face of a situation that must be unblocked, given the PP’s categorical failure and its repressive tendencies. In this sense, we assert the legitimacy of October 1 as a political mobilisation and support its taking place.

However, afterwards comes October 2 and work will have to continue for a referendum that must engage everyone and where nobody might feel invited to stay at home, a referendum reflecting that pluralism on the foundation of which the old aspiration of popular Catalanism to be “un sol poble” is set.

Catalonia will be built with the people of the Yes, the people of the No and with those that defend a new relationship between the Catalan nation and the collective project. Catalonia will be built with those who mobilise on October 1 and those who don’t. Winning the battle of sovereignties means winning the battle to build broad majorities that allow building for decision-making and that know that deciding means building a fairer, cleaner and freer country.

Published in the July 16, 2017 edition of El Periódico.

Pablo Iglesias is the general secretary of Podemos. Xavier Domènech is the coordinator of Catalunya en Comú and the spokesperson for En Comú Podem in the Spanish parliament.

Notes

[1] ‘A single people’. In Catalan in the original Spanish text.

[2] The reference is to the People’s Party (PP) at the level of the Spanish state and to Democratic Convergence of Catalonia (CDC) in Catalonia. After the level of corruption within its elite was exposed, the CDC refounded in June 2016 as the Catalan European Democratic Party (PDeCAT).

[3] On June 13, the confederal parliamentary caucus of Unidos Podemos (Podemos and the United Left), plus the broader confluences in which it takes part in Catalonia (En Comú Podem) and Galicia (En Marea), moved a no-confidence motion against the PP government of prime minister Mariano Rajoy. Besides these organisations it won the support of the ERC, the Valencian party Compromís (Commitment) and the Basque left-nationalist party EH Bildu (82 votes in all). Those against were 170 (the PP, Citizens and the regionalist Canary Coalition), while 97 abstained (PSOE, the Basque Nationalist Party and PDeCAT).

[4] The lower house of the Spanish parliament: its upper house is the Senate.

[5] The reference is to the pro-independence alliance in Catalonia, in particular the Together For The Yes (JxSí) government. Elected on September 27, 2015 (27S), it initially laid out a “road map” to independence centred on developing a draft constitution. This changed on September 28, 2016, when the premier, Carles Puigdemont, committed the pro-independence government to a policy of “either referendum or referendum”: either a Scottish-style referendum negotiated with the Spanish government or a unilateral referendum. The October 1 referendum is the result of the refusal of the Spanish PP government to countenance any negotiated referendum for Catalonia. See here for background.

[6] The social democratic PSOE (Spanish Socialist Workers Party) formally adopted recognition of Spain as plurinational at its June 17-18, 2017 congress. However, the PSOE continues to maintain that the nations that make up the Spanish state don’t have the right to decide their own relation to it. Hence the PSOE opposes the October 1 referendum and has committed to supporting whatever legal and constitutional action is needed to stop it. The PSC (Party of Socialists of Catalonia) is the Catalan sister organisation of the PSOE. It used to support a Catalan right to decide via referendum agreed with the Spanish state, but since 2010 has generally been aligned with the approach of the PSOE. The PSC was one of PSOE federal secretary Pedro Sánchez’s strongest supporters in his successful attempt to recapture the position against the resistance of the old PSOE establishment, which generally doesn’t acknowledge the plurinational character of the Spanish state.

[7] Catalonia’s 2006 Statute of Autonomy was negotiated between the Spanish PSOE government of prime minister José Luís Rodríguez Zapatero and the 2003-2010 Catalan tripartite government of the PSC, Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC) and Initiative for Catalonia-Greens (ICV). It received the support of the Spanish and Catalan parliaments and was ratified by referendum in Catalonia. The PP, then in opposition, immediately began a campaign against the Statute, lodging an appeal against its constitutionality with the Constitutional Court and collecting four million signatures on a supporting petition. This appeal was partially upheld in 2010, leading to a million-strong protest demonstration in Barcelona behind a lead banner which read “We Are a Nation, We Decide”. The demonstration marked the beginning of the new rise of pro-independence sentiment in Catalonia. See here and here for more background.

[8] Date of adoption of the present Spanish Constitution.

[9] The references are to: the agreement between JxSí and the CUP to support Carles Puigdemont as premier of a JxSí government after the CUP refused to accept his predecessor Artur Mas; the agreement between the CDC and ERC over the distribution of ministries (conselleries in Catalan) in the government; and the decision of the CUP to support the 2017 Catalan budget (see here for an explanation of the CUP position).

 

October 1: We won’t be going

Media note

We, a group of members of Catalunya en Comú, ordinary people with different political outlooks who have come together there, have initiated a manifesto about October 1 that has attracted 214 expressions of support. Our purpose is to have a voice heard that is present not only within our political space’s plurality but also within the diversity of our voting base.

We want to contribute to the coherence of Catalunya en Comú policy by expressing a sensibility that is to be found in the real Catalonia of our neighborhoods, towns and cities, among the people who have given us electoral support and for whom the appearance of the commons means new hope for an alternative between processism[1] and immobility.

This manifesto was presented to the July 8 decision-making meeting of Catalunya en Comú, with the intention of bringing to the discussion a collective voice expressing the majority spirit of the interventions of our ordinary members in the territorial assemblies about October 1.[2]

The manifesto was not finally put to the vote because we agreed with the main aspects of the document adopted, such as the considerations that October 1 “is a bluff of the Together for the Yes government”, that “this is not the referendum that Catalonia deserves and needs” and that “a significant part of the Catalan population does not feel called upon to take part on October 1”. The initiators and supporters of this manifesto do not feel so called upon and we believe that this is the majority sentiment in many working-class and poor neighborhoods where the commons won the last elections.

This manifesto, drafted during the last week of June, gathering expressions of support from members and sympathisers and arising from the rank and file in full respect for the plurality of options in relation to participation [on October 1], proposes:

Don’t participate or call for participation in the October 1 referendum

• Because the October 1 consultation is not the democratic and effective referendum that three quarters of Catalan society is demanding;

• Because the October 1 consultation does not comply with any of the conditions of the Founding Assembly of Un País en Comú [a Country Together or a Country in Common, the provisional name of Catalunya en Comú]: it is not effective, it does not engage with Catalan society in its plurality, and has neither international recognition nor democratic guarantees;

• Because the approach of October 1 degrades the meaning of referendum as a democratic instrument conceived to solve problems;

• Because the referendum we want is not part of the conflict but rather of the solution and must be addressed to the citizens of Catalonia as a whole so as to decide on their future, which does not lie exclusively in Yes or No to independence.

Manifesto on the calling of October 1 (214 signatures)

1. At the Founding Assembly of Un País en Comú[3] the conditions were established for the support of the commons for a referendum: an effective referendum, which addressed the whole of Catalan society and its plurality of positions, with international recognition and democratic guarantees. The calling of October 1, just as happened with November 9[4], does not meet any of these conditions.

2. Any vote promoted by the government of a democratic country requires guarantees that are not met in this case, such as: an election law known in advance to the citizens and widely debated by political forces; an electoral administration to guarantee the equality, objectivity and transparency of the whole process from the beginning to the counting of the vote; an electoral roll; polling stations with members chosen randomly from the electoral roll; and public media respectful of the plurality of opinion.

3. The call lacks international recognition because it does not meet the conditions for its certification as democratic by the Venice Commission, an advisory body of the Council of Europe. In fact, it doesn’t have national recognition either, given that the National Referendum Pact promoted by the [Catalan] government itself does not endorse or recognise it as such.

4.- It cannot be an effective referendum with a binding result because, among other reasons, it does not engage with all of Catalan society in its variety of orientations, but is rather a unilateral proposal aimed at voters for the government majority, Together for the Yes and the People’s Unity List: [those forces] did not win the majority of votes at the last elections, which they asserted were plebiscitary.[5]

5. That the referendum is of secondary interest to the Catalan government is evidenced by the fact that the PdeCAT, the party of its premier, did not vote in favor of Pablo Iglesias, the first candidate for prime minister of Spain who defends a referendum to decide the future of Catalonia, abstaining on [Podemos’s] motion of no-confidence in Mariano Rajoy.

6. The October 1 consultation does fulfil legal requirements, but neither does it have the legitimacy of representing the majority, and in no case will it be the consultation that three-quarters of Catalans want. It is rather a manoeuvre along the same lines as 9N—a fake referendum display aimed at stoking conflict with the State so as to polarise the vote at the next Catalan elections.

7. Catalunya en Comú defends the rights of those who feel called upon to take part in October 1, tolerating no show of force by the PP government to prevent it. By the same token Catalunya en Comú can neither participate in nor call for participation in a consultation that pretends to be a referendum without fulfilling any of the conditions required for it to be the democratic and effective referendum we need.

8. Catalonia en Comú cannot endorse the call for and holding of a consultation or any substitute mobilisation that, besides not being a real referendum, degrades the meaning of this tool of democracy designed to solve problems by giving voice and vote to all citizens.

9. The referendum that we approved at the Founding Assembly of the commons is not part of the conflict but rather of the solution. It is the instrument that would allow the citizens of Catalonia to decide their future relationship with the rest of Spain, which does not exclusively lie in a Yes or No vote on independence.

10. The proposal of the commons, in addition to defending an effective referendum with guarantees and recognition, is to achieve a plurinational State based on the fraternity of the peoples and with the capacity to generate alliances and knit together partnerships with the political forces of the State and Europe.

Source: http://www.ara.cat/2017/07/15/L-1-O_no_hi_anirem_a_votar_i_Manifest.pdf

Notes

[1] “Processism” refers to the chain of measures taken by the pro-independence Catalan government to implement its (changing) road map to independence (“the process”). Immobility refers to the intransigent stance of the Spanish PP government in the face of this challenge.

[2] Catalunya en Comú held regional meetings on its orientation to October 1 in early July.

[3] Un País en Comú (A Country Together or A Country in Common) was the provisional name of Catalunya en Comú. The name Catalunya en Comú was decided by membership plebiscite after its founding congress.

[4] The reference is to the November 9, 2014 “participatory process” which replaced the referendum that had been ruled unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court. Some 2.3 million to part in the process—about one third of the electoral roll—with over 80% supporting independence.

[5] At the September 27, 2015 Catalan elections (27S), the pro-independence forces JxSí and the CUP won 47.74% of the vote and 53.33% of the seats, while the unionist (“constitutionalist”) forces (PP, Citizens and the PSC) won 39.17% of the vote and 38.52% of the seats. The vote for other forces was 11.45% (8.15% of the seats, all going to CSQEP).

Read also:
Greece and Cyprus as geopolitical fodder

 

A naïf vision of the referendum

By Isabel Coixet

I way it at the outset–this text feels expendable to me: I’m writing it in the state of mind of someone who is making a kite and trying to get it to fly on a Sunday afternoon when there’s not a breath of wind.

For me and, I suspect, for many more people, the situation we have been experiencing recently in Catalonia has distinct features that look especially harmful. I spell out some of them here: feel free to cross these out and to add your own.

For a long time now [in Catalonia], contempt towards the other territories in the Spanish state has been continuously fostered and incited. It’s like a kind of tiresome return to the school playground: that one’s stupid; the one behind him is a total slackarse. As the well-travelled person that I am I can testify that stupidity and laziness are not the exclusive property of any people in the world. (If that were so I would already be seeking asylum in the land of the lazy. Laziness is highly undervalued.)

Counterposed to that–before any discussion about what to do to improve the life of citizens–are the advantages of a mythical promised land that is moving inexorably towards “disconnection” from Spain: this is something, according to its supporters, that we eight million Catalans have been dreaming of since earliest childhood, given that we live enslaved, gagged and subjugated to the perverse central government.

An aside: let’s be clear, the central government that we have is tricky to deal with and I’m certainly not going to be the one to say otherwise. The ineptitude they keep displaying in the face of situation we’re in can only be compared to the attitude of ostriches in the face of an advancing pack of mountain lions. But it’s a stretch from this point to talking about enslavement and subjection. And in a world where so many people really are enslaved and subjected, it’s embarrassing that people in the Catalan government speak in these terms.

The fact that a genuinely nationalist sentiment exists in many sectors of the population is undeniable and worthy of the greatest respect. People like Puigdemont and Jonqueras[1]—and I believe them—have spoken about the enthusiasm the existence of an independent state affords them. But it is when they seek to impose that enthusiasm—on the assumption that we all share it—that problems begin. They haven’t bothered to find out what we think and why we don’t share it.

I find it extremely hard to work out what the real differences are between a centralist right-wing party and a Catalanist and nationalist one. Both, to different degrees and with different emphases, have been concerned to cultivate a dreadful brew of institutionalised corruption. It’s a bit of poetic justice that Ignacio González[2] and one of the junior Pujols[3] are in the same jail, but now we need justice of the most prosaic kind to get out of the dead end that threatens to become set in stone for the rest of us.

The essentialist debate over country has swallowed up the debate over what society we want. With independence, the country will be a mix of Shangrila, Legoland and Ganimedes.[4] I’m still waiting for someone to tell me what the new independent Catalan republic will actually be like. If anyone has any clues, please share them. I like Legoland a lot, but I don’t want to live there, it must be very uncomfortable.

Then there’s the waltz of statistics about trade balances and taxes that get shuffled to convince the voter of the absolute necessity of independence because “Spain robs us”. This idea has sunk in with a large part of the population that feels genuinely nationalist and wants and needs to find some explanation for the economic crisis and that, for reasons that escape me, is convinced that being Catalan is much better than being Spanish. Given this, let me let you in on a secret: neither of the two issues is trivial, but there considerably worse things. I can think of quite a few. Having reached this point, I now don’t know if Spain robs me more than Amazon, Zalando[5] or the mechanic who relieved me of 400 euros for five minutes work fixing the air-conditioning. I am honestly lost is this debate about numbers and government responsibilities.

The worst is this: things being this way, with constant apocalyptic threats from the Catalan government and the stony-faced “don’t know, won’t say” of the Spanish government, there is no room for any sort of reflection or calm dialogue. Those of us who think that independence may not be the best of ideas immediately get disqualified as fascists, sell-outs to the central government and a host of other nice complements. Or, in the best of cases, we are invisible and get swept out of the public sphere. Another piece of news: not being pro-independence does not mean being fascist or with Citizens or the PP. It simply means that we think that being Catalan and Spanish are not mutually exclusive concepts. Respect for the referendum, if the political parties agree on it, if the Constitution is changed—and it can be—and a legal framework is established. Why not?

But a referendum called unilaterally without a list of registered voters and with no controls, with the argument that half the vote plus one is enough to declare independence, no thank you! I would like to recall here that when the referendum was called in Quebec, the percentages required for such an important decision were fixed by the High Court on the premise that, given a clear and decisive majority (not half plus one), the rest of the country would be obliged to renegotiate how Quebec fitted into Canada.

And now comes the definitively naïf (or politically naive or ingenuous or simple-minded) afterthought to this text—I say it so that those who want to give up can do so here: this is not the time to create more frontiers, walls or barriers. Perhaps more than ever in History, this is the time to build bridges, to focus on the things we have in common, to settle injustices and differences through an authentic and genuine desire for dialogue, to confront together as Europeans—in a federal framework and without distinction as to passports—the challenges of a terrible, complex, torrid, convulsed and irrational world.

Catalan Isabel Coixet is a well-known film director and script writer in Spain.

El País, July 19, 2017. Accessed at https://cat.elpais.com/cat/2017/07/17/opinion/1500292963_456977.html

Notes

[1] Oriol Jonqueras (ERC) is the Catalan deputy premier and treasurer.

[2] Former PP Madrid leader Ignacio González was also the premier of the Community of Madrid (the Madrid regional government) between September 2012 and June 2015. In April 2017, he was jailed on suspicion of taking part in a criminal organisation, perverting the course of justice, misappropriation of funds, bribery, money laundering, fraud and document forgery. He is presently free on bail.

[3] Jordi Pujol Ferrusola, son of former Catalan CDC premier Jordi Pujol, was taken into custody on April 24 this year on suspicion of organising tax evasion.

[4] That is, a technologically advanced paradise is that is out of this world. Ganimedes is planet Jupiter’s largest moon, with an atmosphere and the presence of water.

[5] On-line fashion outlet.

 

October 1: views from the CUP, United Left and Anticapitalists

A slice of concrete reality (an open letter to Alberto Garzón)

By Pau Llonch

No people that oppresses another can itself be free—Karl Marx

Esteemed Alberto Garzón,

Let me start with the most important point: I count myself among the many who often read and admire your work. I discovered your theoretical brilliance back in 2014, in an article based on heterodox economic theory about the theory of capitalist crises. As for so many others at that time it was a matter of celebration for me that one of the figures emerging from 15M [the indignado movement] and who from ignorance might have seemed only a media phenomenon, was actually much more than a pissed-off person making clever use of the social networks: he was a Marxist, a materialist who unhesitatingly considered himself a communist. What great news then! And what a colossal disappointment this week, upon reading your position on the Catalan democratic process. Your position, and that of your party.[1]

We recently had a brief exchange of views about the October 1 referendum for self-determination on the social networks. In summary and without going into depth: I began by recommending to you a good article by Jaime Pastor[2], to which you replied that you didn’t need to read it because you knew the arguments. I followed up with a canonical piece of Lenin defending the right of self-determination, to which you replied that it was a “sacred text” but that you were more for “the concrete analysis of concrete reality”.

How much do we also agree about that! So, here are some facts:

1. Let’s start, naturally enough, with social classes. Practically the entire Catalan bourgeoisie is against exercising the right to self-determination, against the October 1 referendum and (this is less important) against independence. Many young people have certainly learned from you the need to tackle class analysis in a complex way. You have recently shown how to do it as far as the State is concerned, just as Marx did so masterfully in the Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon. I am proud to acknowledge that I used your seven-class categorisation of modern capitalist societies as a source in my sad career in Economics.

Well then, where is that complexity when you describe the referendum as “running with the Pujols“[3]? Concrete reality: in Catalonia, the Economy Circle[4], Development of National Labor[5], La Caixa[6], the Bank of Sabadell[7], La Vanguardia[8] … no-one of relevance in the leading three fractions of the bourgeoisie described in your article (the parasitic capitalists, fictitious capital and suppliers of funding) supports the Catalan democratic process, and only some of the non-financial capitalists—part of the small and medium bourgeoisie—support it. It is without doubt a national-popular movement that is cross-class, as always happens in any actually existing democratic revolution, as your Catalan comrades[9] rightly point out. In the political sphere, only one fraction of the Catalan right within the shrinking PDeCAT support it unreservedly (by the way, the other fraction got shorn by 1515 Gauls at a CUP mass assembly[10]). However, from libertarian organisations such as Embat[11], passing through Revolta Global[12] and the socialist left of the national liberation movement[13] through to the social democracy of the ERC (yes, increasingly social-liberal in Catalonia)—all support the referendum unconditionally.

2. We defend concrete potentialities, you defend abstract alternatives. Since you ask for concrete analysis, an alternative in the strictly institutional sphere with a chance of being hegemonic in a Catalan Republic already exists: it is the sum of Catalunya en Comú, the ERC and the CUP. Note that we can allow ourselves to leave the PSC-PSOE out of the equation, unlike what can be proposed at the level of the Spanish state. Of course, this does not guarantee the eventual building of socialism in Catalonia, because that will depend, as always, on what happens on the streets rather than in the institutions, but it does offers an opportunity—very concrete—to continue fighting for possible alternatives in the current phase of post-crisis capitalist restructuring in the absence of totally antagonistic institutions, in a contest between honest social democracy (Catalunya en Comú and the ERC) and socialism (the CUP): that could be an example for many peoples in the Spanish state and on the European continent.

I remember that Jaume Asens[14] and some other colleagues who now run Barcelona Council defended in their day the “assault” of the institutions as a possible example for other European cities. It is incomprehensible why this eventual and possible alliance that I raise, which would be exceptional in the Spanish state, cannot also serve as that, an example: an example in a Europe plagued by xenophobia and fascism. Even more so when the alternative you offer is abstract defense of the right to self-determination that goes through reforming the Spanish constitution: that, in the light of recent polls, is a scenario imaginable only over decades. And, most importantly, as your comrade in IU Alberto Arregui[15] reminded you, it has nothing to do with self-determination: it would depend on the permission of Rajoy or the state, or on your acquiescence or on that of Pablo Iglesias. That is heteronomy[16] and dependence pure and simple.

So who is more concrete now? Who more abstract?

3. The bulk of the movement for Catalan sovereignty aspires to win social and political rights, while the chauvinist and identity-based elements are in a total minority. I suppose it is difficult to understand, but if one attends to the reality of the facts and speeches in the street and in the Catalan parliament and not to the prejudices of left Spanish Jacobinism, the ruling mood in this country has been slowly turning left since the beginning of the process.

There are innumerable examples: even [Catalan premier Carles] Puigdemont said yesterday in the parliament that he had never used the fatal expression “Spain robs us”, now effectively banished from the collective imagination and argumentation of the pro-independence majority; Omnium Cultural,[17] the pro-sovereignty entity of reference in the present phase, has recently presented a campaign called Free–from exclusion, poverty and inequality. It was designed by our esteemed David Fernandez, anti-capitalist and the most valued MP deputy of the last legislature [2012-2015]—a curious fact in a country supposedly duped by pro-Convergence bourgeois elites—in collaboration with the entire fabric of the cooperative movement working with the country’s main ethical and cooperative bank.[18]

To continue: although overturned by the Spanish Constitutional Court, the Catalan Parliament has been obliged by the common sense of the present moment in Catalonia—a zeitgeist, as you will see, with nothing right-wing about it –-to pass legislation against evictions, against the use of rubber bullets[19], for a Guaranteed Citizens’ Income (yes, inadequate), for the closure of the Foreign Persons Internment Centre[20] and for the annulment of all Francoist court sentences (affecting 66,000 people). Can you imagine the political majorities allowing such legislation, even if still inadequate, in the Spanish state? No, I can’t either. And do you think this analysis concrete enough?

4. There is no alternative to democratic resolution of this conflict, and no democratic resolution is possible within the Kingdom of Spain. The constitution of 1978 was erected on three pillars: capitalism as mode of production, the monarchical system and denial of the right of self-determination to the peoples of the State. After 18 formal requests to hold this referendum, after seven years of sustained mass mobilisations, after the JxSí bloc having got its absurd road map back on track thanks to the common sense of the CUP–to the point of now consolidating the October 1 referendum as focal point and solution–no other alternative exists for the exercise of our inalienable right to self-determination based on our capacity for resistance and struggle. Nor is there any way of really being federalist in this authoritarian state that does not imply being first pro-independence. As our beloved David Fernández says, if there is no democratic path to independence, there will be a pro-independence path to democracy–for all the peoples of the State. It is this materialist analysis that leads we many non-nationalists to fight for this referendum and to ask—secondarily—for a Yes vote. There is no doubt if the people’s verdict goes against independence that we will continue to support people like you in your effort to reform the state of rottenness that is Spain. We only ask for some reciprocity.

5. Yes, the left should demand guarantees. But of the State. The most phantasmagorical aspect of the position held by IU is that you demand an agreed referendum with all possible guarantees, but demand this of the Catalan government and of the Catalan social majority that is trying to achieve self-determination and not of the people-fearing State that is blocking them. Forgetting, furthermore, that every democratic revolution is built in opposition to the law and not in accordance with it.

6. The referendum has an unquestionable clarifying capacity that urgently needs to be activated. This argument, by the way, comes from your comrade Manuel Delgado of Communists of Catalonia, not from me. The referendum clarifies precisely because it breaks with the unnatural class divisions that non-recognition of the right to self-determination within the State imposes. Many of us yearn for a constituent process precisely in order to keep contesting–more vigorously and without national veils–the hegemony of the bourgeoisie over our country. That the leadership in this phase of the process of self-determination remains in the institutional sphere in the hands of the PDeCAT is the responsibility of all, but mostly of a left lost in a shipwreck of tacticism, electoralism and idealism when it could have been leading the process without many problems.

To conclude. Marxist Kevin B. Anderson in Marx on the Margins[21] affirms that Marx’s internationalism was not abstract but very concrete, and his support for the emancipation of the Irish and Polish is a good example of this. Hopefully, you can begin to apply the rigor that distinguishes you in political economy to analysis of the so-called national question, always complex, the result of historical processes and affecting the relations between social classes. Hopefully it won’t happen –from not climbing the often difficult path from the abstract to the concrete that our method demands– that a democratic revolution takes place before your nose while you keep repeating “Pujol! Pujol ! Pujol!” in an eternal and tragic babble.

July 14, 2017

Pau Llonch is a member of the Taifa Critical Economy Seminar, the Mortgage Victims Platform in Sabadell and the People’s Unity List (CUP).

Source: http://blogs.publico.es/otrasmiradas/9534/una-brizna-de-concreta-realidad-carta-a-alberto-garzon/

 

The abstract independence of Catalonia: a reply to Pau Llonch

By Alberto Garzón

“Why,” Mr K asked himself, “did I become a nationalist for a moment? Because I came across a nationalist.” –Bertolt Brecht

Comrade Pau Llonch, a member of the CUP and of the Taifa Critical Economy Seminar, has recently written a public letter addressed to me to discuss the so-called Catalan question. The origin of the public dispute lies in the public position of the United Left (IU) not to participate in the referendum that will take place on October 1, something that Pau Llonch considers a “colossal disappointment”. Here I assess his arguments.

First, on quotations from authorities. In the context of the original network discussion, Llonch cited a position of Lenin on the right to self-determination, which, if accepted as such, would show that those belonging to the Marxist school would have to support the wishes for independence of any people. That would be the case so long as two preconditions were fulfilled: that such a thing as a homogeneous and timeless Marxist school existed, and that Lenin’s interpretation were canonical. In my case, I have always been reluctant to read the classics as if they were bearers of truth and their texts as if they were sacred scriptures. At this point Llonch used, paradoxically, Lenin’s definition of Marxism: “the concrete analysis of concrete reality”. On this question, my opinion coincides with that of one of the best Marxists we’ve had, Francisco Fernández Buey[22], who recommended reading the classics not as a search for the interested quotation but as inspirers of a plural and heterogeneous political tradition, always sensitive to context and historical moment. Otherwise, we run the risk of interpreting the quotation from Marx that heads the Llonch article, as well as his position on Scotland or Ireland, as if they were not set in a singular historical context. And the reality is that our classics also had their contradictions. Who does not remember Marx’s position on the brutal colonisation of India by England, this latter country getting defined as nothing more or less than “the unconscious tool of history”?[23] Our dear old Engels also justified the “war of conquest” carried out by the Americans against the Mexicans, wondering rhetorically if it really were “a disgrace that the arrogance of California was taken away from the lazy Mexicans, who did not know what to do with it?”. And what can be said of the Second International, in equal parts colonialist and internationalist lip service in European terms, which at its Fifth Congress[24] recognised “the right of the inhabitants of the civilized countries to establish themselves in countries whose population is at a lower stage of development”. In short, concrete analysis of the concrete situation rather than a scholastic reading of Marxism.

Secondly, on method. Llonch accuses my analysis of being stuck in abstraction, unlike his own which would be engaging with concrete realities. In short, what he argues is that I defend a No to independence from a deductive chain of argument that excludes detail, something that inevitably determines the result. For example, I would be talking about the bourgeoisie but without going into its divisions. But this is a misperception of the way I work. Not for nothing, both of us—and everybody–use abstract categories (class, nation, party, bourgeoisie, independence etc) that are built up on the basis of a certain conception of the world where, let it be said in passing, in this case the one is the close cousin of the other. What changes is the explanatory weight given to the different categories and how they relate to each other. Llonch doesn’t talk about realities that are more concrete but organises his abstract categories in a different way. Another thing, and I fear that this is where the confusion arises, is that he attributes to the pro-independence strategy as against any other a greater short-term chance of realisation. Indeed, he goes on to say that the pro-independence strategy is a “concrete potentiality” while ours, theoretically, is an “abstract alternative”. This is a legitimate hypothesis but it has nothing to do with analytical method. In short, it is not that my analyses are more abstract and those of Llonch are not; it is that our perspectives and tools of analysis differ, and with them our political conclusions.

Third, let’s talk about the category of nation. As the non-dogmatic materialist that I am, I start from the basis that nations are social constructs. Or, as the Marxist historian Benedict Anderson explains, they are imagined communities. Being Spanish, being Catalan or being French belongs to the realm of beliefs, which are created and develop historically. External conditions, historical and circumstantial, along with developments in personal life are involved in the consolidation or destruction of those same beliefs. Yet beliefs are not the basis of science, but of politics. Therefore, I don’t argue about being Catalan or being Spanish based on the objective meaning that this might have, but in relation to its capacity to impact upon social goals, be they socialism or a simple improvement in living conditions. That is why it is absurd to put all nationalisms in the same basket. The imperialist nationalism of Germany in 1914 or the National Catholicism of Francoist Spain can’t be compared with the nationalism of the national liberation of the Latin American peoples or that of the anti-colonial struggles of the middle of the last century. From this argument, we can derive an initial conclusion: the right to self-determination is not an end in itself. Nor, in my opinion, is being pro-independence. It depends on the concrete situation.

Fourth, peoples are also social constructs. This means that the recognition of their existence is a political act. An act that must be substantiated. I, for example, recognise the Catalan people. A people with its own institutions–language, culture, customs, etc–whose roots, of course, lie before 1713[25]: if not, what would they have been demanding of Felipe IV in the middle of the seventeenth century?[26] As I said, the Catalan people has been being constructed from historical developments. Undoubtedly, the fact that Spain was governed for so long by the dynasty of the Austrias and not that of the Borbons[27] influenced notably in the development of the Catalan people. But at this point it should be remembered that the bourgeoisie is responsible for creating the state, but not for creating peoples. For example, there is a Catalan people of those below and there is a Catalan people of those on top: there is a people that is evoked more by the Tragic Week of 1909[28] or the defense of Barcelona during the civil war than by the spirit of Francesc Cambó[29].

Fifth, recognition of the right to self-determination is a basic principle for Marxists. As Manuel Sacristán[30] said: “No national problem has a solution if not as part of a situation of self-determination.” Peoples and nations might be social constructs, but they operate in reality as if they were objective entities and consequently their activities produce real effects. When peoples get into conflicts with one another, whatever the causes, the only way to resolve them must be through dialogue and negotiation. In attributing the same abstract condition to Spanish nationalism and Catalan nationalism, we should take the side in advance of neither the one nor the other. Here is the libertarian vein that underlies every approach that leads to the saying “the proletarians have no country”. On the contrary, we need to be aware that it is possible to open institutional pathways to resolving the real conflict. The best institutional pathway is the recognition of the right to self-determination, which implies that any process of dialogue between peoples–I am talking about peoples, not Rajoy–must incorporate this specific mechanism.

Sixth, the defense of the right to self-determination is compatible with defense of a federal model. Since the right to self-determination is not based on the belief that any people should be independent, but on democratic and practical principles like the ones mentioned, it is compatible with defending a federal state. That is nothing more than defending coexistence among peoples in the framework of common institutions, based ideally on principles of fraternity and self-government. That fraternity, as Antoni Domènech brilliantly explains[31], comes from the republican-socialist tradition and inspires, among other things, internationalism. A federal state that recognises the peoples and nations of Spain and doesn’t turn them against each other is a beautiful aspiration. And it is also possible.

Seventh, is it possible not to be a priori pro-independence? What Llonch proposes is that given the reality of an authoritarian state in Spain it is impossible to be a federalist without being previously a supporter of independence. Something like: I would like to be a federalist but they won’t let me. This argument is true in part, where it refers to the obsessive and authoritarian nature of the Spanish State and its two main parties, the PP and PSOE. Their political position has cut off the possibilities of enabling, up to now, adequate institutional channels such as the referendum. But the growth of the pro-independence vote in recent years is not only due to this cause. There is also, in a remarkable way, a populist channeling of popular frustration in the face of the crisis and capitalism. Put another way: independence has been presented not only as the democratic right of the Catalan people but also as the solution to economic and social evils suffered individually. The Catalan right wing was the first to see that in times of crisis the flag is a useful shelter. Although the storyline of “Spain robs us” is not in evidence now–how could it be, with such a silly argument–there is undoubtedly a background economic reality, stressed by the Catalan right itself, which sees the mere existence of links with the less developed areas of the State as a dead weight. Even so, the question remains: is it possible to be a federalist in Catalonia? According to the question for October 1[32], certainly not. This is striking, as it is in fact a difference with 9N[33]. How would a non-nationalist, non-independentist Spanish or Catalan person vote on October 1? He or she simply cannot. Put another way: the framework constituted by the promoters of October 1 makes it impossible for Catalan society to express itself in its entirety. In short, the process lacks sufficient guarantees.

Read also:
'Leftist' Alchemies and Direct Democracy (A necessary clarification)

Eighth, the question of guarantees goes beyond legality. When we say that the process has no guarantees, we do not refer to its legality–as if for us the priority is somehow respect for the 1978 regime–but to its usefulness as a mechanism for conflict resolution. It is not only that the federal option has been removed, notable in itself, but also that so long as the process has been conducted more as a political weapon than as an instrument for solving the conflict, it gives the impression that it cannot contribute to solving anything. The disputes within the Catalan government, related to how to conduct the referendum, seem to confirm this impression: few really believe that it will be useful. If anything, it is a show of strength, legitimate but useless. The real guarantee is that when the Catalan people are asked for their opinion, they can express it clearly and directly after a serious and rigorous debate. The right to self-determination is, in effect, clarifying, which is why we defend it. But for it to be able to be exercised with guarantees it can’t be like the proposal for October 1. Those people who, sharing my position, want to vote for the break with the 1978 regime without voting for independence must have their own space: that is not the case today.

In ninth place, it is not a good idea to underestimate the strength of the Catalan bourgeoisie. It is true that a considerable part of the Catalan bourgeoisie does not seem to support independence, and it is true that the tensions have reached the old Convergence and the new PDeCAT. But I find it hard to assume that the Catalan bourgeoisie is so clumsy and incompetent that it has given Catalonia’s subaltern forces control over the process. Llonch reminds us how 1515 CUP militants succeeded in knocking Mas out of the front row in December 2015. But the fact that another 1515 militants voted in favor of Mas’s investiture is forgotten: they prioritised the national over the class question in a very significant way. The admired Antonio Baños[34] resigned for the same reason, because he was in favor of keeping the leader of the right-wing at the helm. And what about the ERC, which has for many years been supporting a Catalan government that the Catalan popular classes have had to put up with—and suffer. The point is that, between one thing and another, we have seen for at least five years how the Catalan elite continues to really govern Catalonia. Honestly, with this road map I’m not sure who controls who. Of course, the fact that the correlation of forces exists to pass anti-eviction laws, for example, is very positive. But I do not see how this justifies independence. There was also an anti-eviction law in Navarra and Andalusia and in all three cases the 1978 regime overturned them through the Constitutional Court. This invites me to think more about the common enemy than about the independence of a part.

In tenth place, is the referendum the best way to break with the regime? That is what Llonch and many other people, also in the Spanish left, seem to insinuate. Sometimes part of this argument gets based on some version of “the worse, the better”, which I do not share. The problem is that, to begin with–even assuming that this is the best way to break with the regime (which I do not believe, since the regime exists to defend a mode of production and a power structure that would not necessarily be altered by the mere existence of more states)—this is not our way. That is, we do not control any of the parameters of that break: anything could happen and nothing is decided in advance. Would the comrades of the CUP manage the post-independence scenario, or would the Catalan right wing lead it? Would it relaunch the forces of rupture in the rest of the state or lead them to a retreat reinforced by the strengthening of Spanish nationalism? Brecht’s quotation with which I open this response is not accidental. I am convinced that Spanish nationalism has created thousands of Catalan nationalists. But we often forget that there is also a Spanish people and that Catalan nationalism creates as many more Spanish nationalists. Locked in this dilemma we get the echoes of that fateful 1914 in which German and French Social Democracy, among others, betrayed their class to defend their nation; and they did it by confronting the people and their own class. I prefer to think, in short, of formulas that allow us to speak of a democratic and social break in which those below of our respective peoples can cooperate.

There is something else on which I would like to finish. Capitalism drives the popular classes to compete with each other in the productive sphere as well as in other spaces. We compete for jobs, access to services, social status, etc. Our classics (Marx, Engels, Luxembourg, Lenin, Gramsci etc) knew this very well and understood that social class is part of an objective reality—the point occupied in the production process–but one which is also socially constructed. That is why the processes of constituting organisations such as parties, unions, etc was called “class formation”. When we organise we do more than coordinate: we declare what we have something in common in the face of a system that divides us. This is how we build an “us” that avoids a “war among the poor”, the normal state of affairs in this capitalist system. “Proletarians of the world, unite” or “Brother and sister proletarians, unite” were not only conjunctural slogans of enormous dignity, but expressed the universal truth of a specific situation, that of the dispossessed and the suffering part of humanity, which, as Fernandez Buey used to say, struggles to emancipate itself from the realm of necessity … in all parts of the world. This is my approach, which in its exposition starts from the abstract and crystallizes into concrete analysis. The one also applied to this issue: right of self-determination and federal republic. And also, socialism without fatherland.

To good health and the Republic.

July 16, 2017

Alberto Garzón is a Unidos Podemos MP and the Federal Coordinator of the United Left

Source: http: //blogs.publico.es/otrasmiradas/9579/la-abstracta-independencia-de-cataluna- Answer-to-pau-llonch.

 

October 1: Slipping into the Llonch-Garzón debate

By Josep Maria Antentas

The public exchange of letters between Pau Llonch, a member of the Catalan Popular Unity List (CUP) and Alberto Garzón, Federal Coordinator of the United Left (IU), on the October 1 Catalan independence referendum is a pleasing and stimulating surprise. Encouraged by it, I have not been able to resist inviting myself into the discussion from the sidelines, hoping not to intrude too much and not wishing, especially, to antagonise comrade Garzón, with whom I am in fundamental disagreement as to his position on October 1 and his analysis of what has taken place since September 11, 2012.[35] In fact, my article is in essence a reply to the position defended by the IU Federal Coordinator, accompanied by some considerations about the Catalan independence process and the Unidos Podemos policy on the issue.

The debate between Llonch and Garzón is infused with a parallel dispute over questions of method. I don’t believe that the contrast between the two is over differing conceptions of the abstract and the concrete, but rather about the ability to make a political reading of the consequences of the Catalan independence movement, definitely a very Leninist question. That’s what I’m going to focus on.

1. The independence process. The movement that burst out massively on September 11, 2012 is the result of a threefold cumulative dynamic: delayed reaction to the aggressive Spanish centralism of the second Aznar government (2000-04), the subsequent failure of the reform of the Statute of Autonomy, culminating spectacularly in the July 2010 ruling of the Constitutional Court, and the impact of the economic crisis and the turn to harsh austerity policy. From the outset a democratic movement built around the exclusive slogan of “independence” was formed under the leadership of the Catalan National Assembly (ANC), disconnected from any proposal for a change of social model and from criticism of austerity policies.

The movement’s social base is cross-class but tilted towards the middle classes and the young and middle-aged. The Catalan high bourgeoisie, as Llonch rightly asserts, has been opposed to it from the beginning and behind the scenes has attempted to derail it or set it on the road to nowhere. Garzón’s doubts in this area are not relevant. This does not mean that at the same time a large part of the Catalan popular classes do not have independence as a future goal and remain divided over the issue. The same holds for its activist and party-member elements.

2. Strategic fallacies and democratic potential. The common sense of the mainstream pro-independence movement has been based on the primacy of the national question as framework of shared identity (“We Catalans must unite because we have common interests”) and the strategic primacy of having a state of its own as a lever for deciding its model of country (“Without a state nothing can be done”). This double primacy, nation and state above all else, was rounded off in the case of supporters of a change of economic model by a certain stagist perspective (“independence first and then we will struggle for the rest”). This created a movement based on large and serious strategic fallacies but, at the same time, one with a democratic project that clashed head on with the institutional framework of the 1978 regime. For the left fighting neoliberal capitalism, this has to be the starting point of any strategic analysis.

Garzón rightly states that “there is a populist channeling of popular frustration in the face of the crisis and capitalism. Put another way: independence has been presented not only as the democratic right of the Catalan people but also as the solution to economic and social evils suffered individually.” Therein lies the great contradiction of contemporary Catalan politics: much of the aspiration to living better has been directed towards a concrete project–independence–that in no way guarantees it. But the limits of the process that began in 2012 and the pro-independence proposal itself are easier to point out from a democratic commitment to the exercising of the right to decide–now concretely to October 1–than from a distance. And at the same time, its shortcomings do not block recognition of its democratic potential or the effort to deepen it into a constituent process that definitively marginalises the PDeCAT. The mixture of passivity and rejection in the face of the independence movement that emanates from the policy of Unidos Podemos and, more surprisingly, from Catalunya en Comú, doesn’t in the least help to overcome the limits of the movement or to take advantage of its potential.

3. Policy of the CUP. During the last five years the CUP combined commitment to the independence process with the affirmation of an anti-capitalist program. However, it excessively operated from within the framework of the process without managing to connect the anticapitalist content of its program with a strategic proposition that, without abandoning the path of the process begun in 2012, also allowed it to work outside it and to help redefine some of the pillars of the common sense of mainstream independentism [in English in original]. Its two most important mistakes, partly driven by feedback, were, on the one hand, to have had no left unity policy towards the left that does not support independence but is supportive of the right to decide on three key occasions: the emergence of Constituent Process after April 2013[36], of Podemos in the European elections of May 25, 2014 and of Guanyem Barcelona (later renamed Barcelona en Comú) in June of the same year. Had it done so the map of the Catalan left could have been different. Its second mistake was to endorse the sequence November 9 + plebiscitary elections + disconnection within eighteen months, which in essence has served to artificially prolong the leading role of PDeCAT in Catalan politics and to create a three-year detour to nowhere. Placed in a difficult position after the 27S elections, the CUP navigated as best it could its internal difficulties, the product of a mistaken political line, but it did so with a genuine display of participation and internal democracy that contrasted harshly with the authoritarian plebiscites of Podemos.[37] It then played a decisive role, as Llonch points out, in having the unreal post-27S road map redirected onto the pathway of referendum as democratic agent of change.

4. The 1978 regime and the centre-periphery dialectic. Concerned about the impact on the State of the advance of the Catalan independence project, Garzón wonders: “Would it relaunch the forces of rupture in the rest of the state or lead them into a retreat reinforced by the strengthening of Spanish nationalism?” It is not possible to give an unambiguous answer to this crucial question, but we can say that the task of the Spanish left is to work for the first scenario, which implies fighting the hegemonic Spanish nationalist project and its reactionary rhetoric from the outset. The more we give in to the Spanish-hegemonic line of argument and the more we try to tiptoe around the thorny issues, the more the ground is prepared for the PP and its minions to use Catalan independence as a distraction from and a scapegoat for its own lack of legitimacy.

What is at stake is whether state-level left forces with a federal-confederal orientation and the Catalan independence movement (along with all other “peripheral” pro-independence forces[38]) are capable, on the basis of mutual respect for their own projects, of articulating a joint strategy against the pillars and bastions of the 1978 regime and the economic powers-that-be. Or whether, on the contrary, they fight and cancel each other out. In short, the challenge is to elaborate a complex centre-periphery dialectic that neither just views matters from the centre nor just locks itself into a perspective of flight by the periphery. This crucial strategic issue has unfortunately been absent from political debates since 2011 and 2012 and has appeared not to very much interest either Podemos and the United Left on the one hand or the CUP and mainstream independentism on the other. In this scenario Anticapitalists is a healthy exception. October 1 offers a concrete opportunity to start exploring common paths of action. Llonch’s argument points in this direction.

5. Nationalisms. Although Garzón points out that “it is absurd to put all nationalisms in the same basket”, the fundamental problem with his argument is that he tends in practice to equate the concrete contemporary function of dominant Spanish nationalism with that of Catalan nationalism. He continues: “In attributing the same abstract condition to Spanish nationalism and Catalan nationalism, we should in advance take the side of neither the one nor the other.” True enough, in the abstract. Abstractingly speaking, one could imagine a situation dominated by a democratic (and left) Spanish nationalism and an ultraconservative Catalan nationalism (in reaction, for example, to a left-wing majority project in the State as a whole).

But this should not make us forget two interrelated issues: the first, the classical distinction between a dominant and a dominated nationalism is a political compass that usually functions as a good guide to correct orientation in the bulk of cases of national oppression; the second, acknowledgement of the different roles of dominant Spanish and Catalan nationalism in the sphere of democracy. One can be a Catalan nationalist or not, but we are duty-bound to recognise that it has not been built on a basis of denying democratic rights to anyone else, whereas this is indeed the case of majority Spanish nationalism, in both its right and centre-left variants.

“I am convinced that Spanish nationalism has created thousands of Catalan nationalists. But we often forget that there is also a Spanish people and that Catalan nationalism creates just as many Spanish nationalists.” Thus, Garzón clinches his argument. Of course, anti-independence propaganda in many media outlets has helped to reinforce reactionary Spanish nationalism. But this statement forgets that the experience of those suffering under both nationalisms is totally different for those who stand up against Spanish nationalism because of its very nature.

6. Independence and federalism. In dissociating himself from independence Garzón correctly recalls that “defence of the right to self-determination is compatible with defence of a federal model.” The problem, as Jaime Pastor points out[39] in analysing the Unidos Podemos policy, is when the right to self-determination is always de facto conceived as tied to a federal solution and when it is very reluctant to recognise the right to separation as such. Two additional problems are related to this approach. Firstly, although its federalism is formally plurinational, postulating that “a federal state that recognises the peoples and nations of Spain, and doesn’t turn them against each other, is a beautiful aspiration”, in fact its conception of federalism seems more typical of a one-nation state. Secondly, and in relation to the above, it conceives of federalism always as the result of a global break with the 1978 framework, as the result of a new—and, of course, desirable–political majority at the level of the state, but has no answer to a scenario when such a majority is missing and there is mass pressure from Catalonia to be able to exercise the right to decide.

All this prevents Garzón from entertaining that in Catalonia a consistent federalism might mean, in the current context, voting for separation as a step prior to the free expression of the desire to unite. The core of Llonch’s line of argument, which Garzon does not share, is summed up in the former’s assertion that “there no way of really being federalist in this authoritarian state that does not imply being first pro-independence.” In fact, this is the crux of the strategic issue of substance. Llonch’s assertion is essentially correct, although two details must be added, the second more important than the first. On the one hand, more than “being first pro-independence” it is enough to defend a “Yes” to independence in a referendum. It’s not exactly the same and for some people marks an important subjective distinction. On the other hand, postulating the “Yes” to independence and having the strongest commitment to exercising the right to self-determination is compatible, despite the existence of undeniable programmatic, tactical and strategic contradictions, with political support from Catalonia for efforts to organise a new political majority around Unidos Podemos, Catalunya en Comú and En Marea. You can vote, vote “Yes” on October 1 and go on to vote for Catalunya en Comú n the general election. The unilateral Catalan path and the search for a new political majority at the level of the state are complementary routes, even if their rhythms of development are not synchronised.

7. Bifurcation of goals. The counterposition between federalism (and the right to decide) and independence has been the main strategic handicap of the Catalan left and for this reason a deep dividing line has been consolidated within it. Surprisingly, practically no-one tried to formulate a strategic agreement between independence supporters and federalists in favor of the right to decide, based on a project of democratic breakthrough and with the slogans of a Catalan Republic and a Catalan constituent process as its foundation. The political corollary has been inability to organise convergence between the bifurcating strategic goals emanating from the independence process and 15M and its later manifestations. The absence of any serious reflection on this issue–with the exception of individuals and minorities–in the universe of Catalunya in Comú (and Unidos Podemos at the state level) and in the CUP (and also ERC on the other hand) amounts to a shot in the foot, creating many shortcomings that presently limp along while threatening to harden into permanent incapacities. The result is that the PDeCAT benefits from the gulf between the pro-independence universe and that supporting the right to decide, while ERC feels practically no pressure for its alliance with the right wing.

8. October 1. In the face of the referendum announced by the Catalan government a couple of basic strategic considerations need to be made. First, it is very difficult for this to end up being the referendum that Catalonia needs. But that is due, above all, to the authoritarian attitude of the government of the State. It is politically indefensible not to start our reasoning from this point. It is a fundamental duty of the left in the State to put this question on the table. Criticism of the authoritarian nationalism of the State is an inescapable precondition to pointing out the limits of the Catalan independence movement. And not as method of argumentation, but as a starting point for political orientation. Secondly, while October 1 is a problematic event it is for the moment the only (attempted) referendum on the horizon. Unidos Podemos correctly defends the holding of the referendum in Catalonia while working in the direction of a negotiated plebiscite. The reality, however, is that there is no short- to medium-term perspective of articulating a new political majority in the Congress of Deputies in favor of it. Moreover, Unidos Podemos is oriented towards creating an alternative majority to the PP through seeking an alliance with the PSOE. Leaving aside the rapid and surprising rehabilitation of the PSOE as an agent of change that this implies, it is obvious that a governmental bloc with the PSOE will not open the way to the exercise of the right to decide and to a referendum on the independence of Catalonia, but to constitutional reform. Something altogether different. Discrediting October 1 in the name of a better referendum that is impossible today is strategically demobilising.

Concerned about October 1’s lack of guarantees Garzón says: “The real guarantee is that when the Catalan people are asked for their opinion, they can express it clearly and directly after a serious and rigorous debate. The right to self-determination is, in effect, clarifying, which is why we defend it. But for it to be able to be exercised with guarantees it can’t be like the proposal for October 1.” But he forgets to clarify that the main reason for all this is that since 2012 the Spanish government has not only turned down the referendum but also avoided any “serious and rigorous” debate.

Two questions appear on the table. Firstly, given this road block, what is the most liberating way forward? A passive policy in Catalonia or an attempt to keep pushing on? An indefinite wait, whose only moments of mobilisation will be to vote for Unidos Podemos and Catalunya en Comú in elections, or a policy of sustained mobilisation and citizen engagement? I think the answer is clear. Secondly, if the October 1 referendum does not finally succeed in becoming the referendum Catalonia needs, what attitude most helps achieve a real one, a policy of waiting or an active commitment to make the autumn event as good as possible? It is not at all the same if the Rajoy government comes out unscathed or if it pays a high political price for being forced to pile on repressive measures.

9. Referendum and democratic affirmation. When the United Left Federal Coordinator writes, referring to October 1, that “so long as the process has been conducted more as a political weapon than as an instrument for solving the conflict, it gives the impression that it cannot contribute to solving anything” he almost places himself in the position of a spectator. A policy that, in fact, is also followed by Catalonia en Comú and that fits badly with its political importance after winning two consecutive general elections and governing Barcelona city. Following a similar orientation, but from a more consistent reasoning in the areas of understanding plurinationality and the crisis of sovereignty, Podemos General Secretary Pablo Iglesias and Catalonia en Comú coordinator Xavier Domènech affirmed in a recent article[40]: “The October 1 mobilisation can be an act of affirming rights and sovereignty in the face of a situation that must be unblocked, given the PP’s categorical failure and its repressive tendencies. In this sense, we assert the legitimacy of October 1 as a political mobilisation and support its taking place. However, afterwards comes October 2 and work will have to continue for a referendum that must engage everyone involved.”

There are two problems here: firstly, it is decreed from the outset that October 1 is a mobilisation and not a referendum as if this were inevitable and also had nothing to do with the policy of those who conceive of it this way. In reality, it would be much more reasonable to raise the need to work so that October 1 can be a referendum, thus putting pressure on PDeCAT (rushed into October 1 much to its regret) and the Catalan government, even while warning that it may end up only as an “act of affirmation of sovereignty” due to the repressive action of the State. And to clarify that if things unfortunately were to work out that way, that the act will not have been in vain because it will constitute a further step in building political pressure to get a referendum accepted by the State. Deciding out of the blue that October 1 is not a real referendum and disconnecting the fight to win one from what happens on that day is at bottom in contradiction with the very terms of the policy of those who defend this perspective. The result is the passivity of Unidos Podemos and Catalunya en Comú, something especially serious in the case of the latter.

Garzón adds another reservation: the absence of a federal option among the voting options. This seems to me a very questionable objection. The consultation proposed is due to the existence of a mass movement that began in 2012 and to a pro-independence political majority. It is normal, then, whether or not you share the goal, to assume that the referendum will revolve around independence. Does this imply that a consultation that included a federal option is unimaginable? No, but it would make sense only if there were some type of alliance for common democratic action against the framework of 1978 between federalists and independence supporters in Catalonia or if there were a proposal in a federal sense coming from the Spanish government. Moreover, the absence of the “federal” option on the ballot paper does not mean that it “has been removed” but that it must be considered by its supporters as a proposal after the exercise of the right to separation.

Read also:
Could the Left Finally Win in Spain This June?

10. The decisive question: what internationalism? We finally reach the strategic point of greatest weight, which transcends both the Catalan independence process and the national question itself, although it is not alien to them: What internationalism for our time? It entails three major reflections. The first is that all genuine internationalism begins with the defense of the right to decide, the national rights of minorities and the freedom of peoples. This places a particular responsibility on internationalist forces belonging to dominant nations. The second is that all internationalism with a future faces the challenge of re-founding forms of cross-border and/or transnational cooperation and practical solidarity among the oppressed and the exploited. The third is that a true internationalism for today’s world entails (re)imagining the very idea of the nation as increasingly pluralistic communities, culturally, linguistically and ethnically. That is, to conceive of the nation politically and strategically. Certainly, Garzon urges us to think “of formulas that allow us to speak of a democratic and social break in which those below of our respective peoples can cooperate.” Given the political agenda, October 1 seems to be an excellent opportunity for partnership in which an active role for the left can help both to combat the PP and to go beyond the Catalan right.

July 18, 2017

Josep Maria Antentas is a professor of sociology at the Autonomous University of Barcelona and a member of the advisory board of the magazine Viento Sur.

Source: http://blogs.publico.es/tiempo-roto/2017/07/18/1-de-octubre-terciando-en-el-debate-llonch-garzon/

Notes

[1] Alberto Garzón is the federal coordinator of the United Left (IU).

[2] Jaime Pastor, longstanding leader of the Fourth International in the Spanish state, is the editor of Viento Sur, the magazine associated with the Anticapitalistas tendency in Podemos, and a lecturer in political science at the National University of Distance Education (UNED). Pastor has written extensively on the Catalan struggle for self-determination. See, for example, this interview: https://www.europe-solidaire.org/spip.php?article41568. The article Llonch refers to is “Legitimacy and legality—with the right to vote on October 1”, at http://blogs.publico.es/dominiopublico/20116/legitimidad-y-legalidad-con-el-derecho-a-votar-el-1-de-octubre/.

[3] The reference is to the family of the former conservative premier of Catalonia, Jordi Pujol, head of the right-nationalist Democratic Convergence of Catalonia (CDC). Pujol was Catalan premier between 1980 and 2003, and he, his wife and members of his family are now facing charges of using tax havens like Andorra and of money laundering.

[4] The Economy Circle, originally a discussion group on economic development policy, is a forum where Catalan big business develops its positions on the important issues of economics and politics, most visibly at its annual conference in the coastal town of Sitges. Its leaders are opposed to the October 1 referendum and keep calling for negotiations between Catalonia and the central Spanish government.

[5] Development of National Labour is the main Catalan employer federation, grouping together regional federations within Catalonia and affiliated to the main employer group in the Spanish State, the Spanish Confederation of Business Organisations (CEOE). A July 27 report of its legal commission described the draft Catalan referendum law as “de facto involving a legal coup d’état contrary to domestic and international law, and an exercise in enormous political irresponsibility with unforeseeable consequences.”

[6] La Caixa, now Caixabank, is Catalonia’s largest bank and Spain’s third largest.

[7] Catalonia’s second largest bank.

[8] The lead Barcelona daily newspaper.

[9] The reference is to the web-based journal of Communists of Catalonia, affiliated to the United and Alternative Left (EUiA), the Catalan sister organisation of IU. See http://bloc.realitat.cat/2016/02/el-fals-debat-entre-nacionalisme-i.html and http://bloc.realitat.cat/2017/07/6-falsedats-pseudomarxistes-sobre-el.html.

[10] The reference is to the now famous December 27, 2015 extraordinary mass assembly of the CUP at which the vote on whether to maintain the organisation’s position of not supporting former premier Artur Mas as head of a pro-independence government was tied 1515 to 1515. A week later the CUP’s Political Council and the Parliamentary Action Group of Constituent Call (the alliance of organisations supporting the CUP’s campaign in the September 27, 2015 elections) voted 36-30 with one abstention to maintain the veto. On January 9, 2016 Mass announced his decision to “take a step to the side” to avoid an early election, being replaced as premier by Carles Puigdemont (see coverage here).

[11] Embat (“onslaught”, also a south-westerly onshore summer wind) describes itself as “a network of social militants in the libertarian tradition, who have set it up in order to find a way of articulating an organised social tendency with the aim of contributing to the development of the people’s movement and to the empowerment of the people from a libertarian perspective: the goal is to achieve a sovereign Catalonia through the deployment of popular power involving the greatest economic democracy and the greatest political democracy.” (translated from website).

[12] Revolta Global (“Global Revolt”) is the Catalan sister organisation of the Anticapitalists tendency within Podemos.

[13] Refers to various socialist organisations, a number affiliated to the CUP and Constituent Call, the two principal forces being Poble Lliure (Free People) and Endavant–OSAN (Forward—Socialist Organisation of National Liberation).

[14] Jaume Asens is the Fourth Deputy Mayor of Barcelona. Before his election as part of Barcelona en Comú, Asens was a well-known civil liberties defence lawyer.

[15] Alberto Arregui is a member of the Federal Presidency of IU. The article in question is “Iglesias’s and Garzón’s spectacles and October 1”. See: http://www.eldiario.es/autores/alberto_arregui/.

[16] Heteronomy: being under the sway of an external or alien force. The opposite of autonomy.

[17] Omnium Cultural promotes Catalan language and culture. It is one of the three mass organisations supporting Catalan independence, the others being the Catalan National Congress (ANC) and the Association of Municipalities for Independence (AMI).

[18] The campaign Free (Lliures) was developed by Omnium Cultural in alliance with the umbrella network Catalan Organisations for Social Action (ECAP) and the cooperative bank Coop57

[19] During the November 14, 2012 general strike, a demonstration took place in Barcelona in which computer analyst Ester Quintana was shot in the eye by a rubber bullet fired by the Catalan police’s riot squad. The police and the police minister initially denied that rubber bullets had been used in the demonstration, but this was later exposed to be untrue. The case became a scandal leading to the removal of riot squad members and to the eventual payment of compensation to Quintana. The platform “Stop Rubber Bullets” was formed at the time and succeeded in forcing the Catalan government to withdraw rubber bullets from police use.

[20] The Foreign Persons Internment Centre (CIE) in Barcelona, which is run by the Spanish interior ministry, has been the target of a long-running campaign demanding its closure. Supporters of closure include the Catalan government, Barcelona Council and the Catalan Ombudsman. An attempt by Barcelona Council to close the centre on the grounds of its violation of municipal regulations was ignored by the Spanish government. A recent book on the CIEs, The CIEs or Institutional Illegality, described the detention centres as “human rights black holes”.

[21] Kevin B. Anderson (2010). Marx at the Margins: On Nationalism, Ethnicity, and Non-Western Societies. University of Chicago Press: Chicago.

[22] Francisco Fernández Buey was a leading Spanish philosopher, based in Barcelona, and best known for his analyses of the work of Antonio Gramsci.

[23] See “The British Rule in India”, at https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1853/06/25.htm.

[24] Held in Paris in September 1900.

[25] The year before the fall of Barcelona in the War of the Spanish Succession (1702-1714).

[26] The reference is to the “War of the Reapers” (1640-52), the resistance of the poorer classes in Catalonia to the “Union of Arms” of the imperial Spanish monarchy head by Felipe IV. The project was aimed at making Spain’s component provinces, including Catalonia, pay a greater share of the cost of maintaining the imperial army. See J. H. Elliott’s The Revolt of the Catalans-A Study in the Decline of Spain (1598-1640) for a definitive account.

[27] The Hapsburg House of Austria ruled Spain from 1516 (Carlos I) until his death without an heir in 1700 of Carlos II, triggering the War of the Spanish Succession, which ended in the victory of the Borbon forces.

[28] The Tragic Week was a series of popular revolts, in Barcelona and other industrial centres, provoked by the Spanish army’s call-up of reservists for a war in Morocco.

[29] Francesc Cambó, central leader of the Regionalist League in Catalonia and supporter of a Catalan statute of autonomy, gave support to the 1923 coup of Spanish general Primo de Rivera. In Cambó’s view it was needed to put an end to working class protest led by the anarchist National Confederation of Labour (CNT). When the dictatorship fell in 1931, the Regionalist League rapidly lost support within Catalan nationalism. Cambó then stood on right-wing tickets during the Second Republic (1931-1939) and actively supported Franco’s 1936 uprising.

[30] Manuel Sacristán was a leading Marxist philosopher, member of the leadership of the PSUC. His best known contributions are in the areas of ecology, the national question in the Spanish state, and philosophy and Marxism. Sacristan founded the magazine Mientras Tanto.

[31] Antoni Domènech is the editor of Sin Permiso. The work referred to his The Eclipse of Fraternity: A Republican Revision of the Socialist Tradition.

[32] The referendum question is: “Do you want Catalonia to be an independent state in the form of a republic?”

[33] The question for the November 9, 2014 “participatory process” was double-barrelled: “Do you want Catalonia to become a state? In case of an affirmative answer, do you want that state to be independent?”

[34] Writer and former leader of Súmate, the pro-independence organisation of Castillian speakers in Catalonia, Antonio Baños was the spokesperson for the CUP’s parliamentary fraction until his resignation after the December 27, 2015 tied vote (see Note 10).

[35] Date of the first of the last five million-plus Catalan National Day demonstrations for sovereignty and independence for Catalonia.

[36] Constituent Process was a social and political movement launched in 2013 by Benedictine nun Teresa Forcades and economist Arcadi Oliveres with the goal of changing Catalonia’s economic, political and social model. At its height it had 50,000 supporters. The Constituent Process suffered from internal tensions between those of its adherents who supported the “commons” and those leaning more towards the CUP.

[37] See this interview with Quim Arrufat, the joint spokeperson of the CUP’s national secretariat, for a description of its internal consultation processes.

[38] See footnote 3 to document 1 for some detail.

[39} In “If I were Catalan, I would have no choice but to vote Yes to independence” at http://www.internationalviewpoint.org/spip.php?article5075.

[40] See document 1.

 

October 1: Reasons to mobilise and vote

By Gerardo Pisarello

A few weeks out from October 1, the Catalan political scene remains immersed in noise and fog. The road map of the Together For The Yes (JxSí) government still raises many questions and fails to engage social sectors vital to carrying off an act of defiance like the one planned. On the other hand, we have an undeniable reality: if the PP policy of blockade gets imposed in authoritarian fashion, it won’t just be the legitimate aspirations to self-government of Catalan citizens that are harshly hit: many demands for democracy in the State as a whole would also be set back. In this context, staying at home doesn’t much look like an alternative. Moreover, mobilising (and voting—even for “Yes”) can be a way to rebel against centralist authoritarianism and to allow the advance of a possible plurinational compact, freely agreed among equals.

Since the ruling of the Constitutional Court against the Statute, the demand for independence has experienced historical growth in Catalonia. This growth has been further spurred by the PP’s recent policies of recentralisation (in many cases of return to the times before the autonomous communities): they are marked by an offensive Spanish State nationalism and an inability to put forward any positive alternative to the current exhausted model.

Notwithstanding, the main position that has emerged in Catalan politics, more than support for independence in the strict sense, is that of support for sovereignty and, within it, for sovereignty that is republican and progressive. Support for sovereignty—pro-independence, confederalist and federalist—today represents a broad majority in Catalan society. Its basic principle is that Catalonia is a nation and that its people have the right to decide their relationship with Spain, be that separation or some form of tie that’s freely agreed upon. On the other hand, within the pro-sovereignty camp, there is a clear majority for sovereignty that’s republican and progressive, one that defends the need to accompany national demands with advanced social, democratic, environmental and gender-related demands, along with a clear commitment to the revival of ethics in public life and to the fight against corruption.

In my view, one of the mistakes of the current pro-independence parliamentary majority has been a failure to properly appreciate the centrality of this republican and progressive pro-sovereignty sentiment. Already in the elections of the September 29, 2015, the pro-independence parties won a clear majority in seats but not in votes. Despite that reality, the JxSí government promised to get to independence in 18 months. It soon became clear that the social support available to make this project viable did not exist. So it was next decided to promote a second consultation with a plebiscitary purpose, this time in the form of a unilateral referendum.

This new change in the road map supposedly pursued a double objective. On the one hand, it would show determination to the already convinced and to the doubters. On the other hand, it would involve in the process sectors not supportive of independence. The success of the strategy is debatable. In effect, unilateralism can be considered a legitimate alternative to a Rajoy government that has rejected any dialogue and has repeatedly practiced the politics of deadlock. Nevertheless, applied to a proposal as formal as a referendum, it brings with it some undeniable problems.

At the outset, it makes the involvement of unconvinced sectors difficult. The point is that a referendum, unlike other unilateral acts such as a tax revolt or mobilising to stop an eviction, requires that certain guarantees of impartiality are in place: through the involvement (and exposure) of public servants, the broad control of the administrative, police and legal apparatus, and the inclusion of the opposition. This is one of the main differences between this kind of institutional disobedience and an act of civil disobedience.

A unilateral independence referendum not only demands impartiality from the authorities calling it, but adherence to an administrative and juridical structure essential to certifying them as really being so: this may, for various reasons, be in contradiction with an initiative of this sort. On the other hand, a strike, the occupation of some public space or an act of civil disobedience depends largely, almost exclusively, on the willingness of those committed to driving it forward and to accepting its consequences.

The choice of the unilateral route has led to a further problem: as a challenge to the juridical regime of the State (and of the autonomous communities) it gets besieged by a range of legal formalities and is vulnerable to legal challenge on various grounds. The pro-independence majority has thus been forced to hide information, avoid essential measures that could expose its political leaders (like buying ballot boxes, etc.) and even to restrict transparency and parliamentary debate.

This acceleration has in part hampered an original objective of the initiative: a more deep-going, properly paced debate on the referendum and the consequences of eventual independence. In fact, objections to the route chosen have not only come from sectors opposing the right to decide. Declared supporters of independence like Vicenç Fisas[1] were soon warning about the weak points of a strategy of unilateral acceleration: in not even aiming to meet a minimum level of participation it could end up discrediting an instrument as precious as the referendum of self-determination itself.

On the other hand, many popular sectors don’t understand that the promise of a unilateral referendum has not been accompanied by advanced measures in social, taxation or environmental policy—anticipations of the republic whose construction is aspired to. Or worse, that the party heading the governing coalition has refused to vote the motion of no-confidence in the PP[2], has coincided with the Spanish right wing in many of its anti-social policies, has maintained in its executive people related to serious cases of corruption, and counts within its ranks a business minister who boasts that in the life of the current government not one agreement outsourcing public education or health has been reversed.[3]

This is no small matter. Certainly, the demonstrations for sovereignty of recent years are neither a bourgeois invention nor the result of manipulation by a handful of clever people. Their pro-democracy, anti-centralist and anti-authoritarian content is undeniable. But that is not their only aspect. They have also been accompanied by the emergence of a certain narrative that’s “ethnicist, classist and provincial”, as Josep-Lluís Carod Rovira[4] put it, which has put off many people: people from popular sectors, especially Spanish-speakers and newcomers, through to open supporters of sovereignty who are not nationalists. And not only that. It has often been the vehicle with which a part of the right wing has tried to arrest its own decline and to fight its progressive opponents, as shown by the repeated attacks from a certain style of nationalism in a Barcelona Council run by the commons.

All that would be sufficinet to understand why many genuinely Catalanist and left-wing people refuse—legitimately—to participate and vote on October 1. However, it would be a mistake if the necessary criticism of many of the policies adopted by the JxSí government left the road open to an authoritarian intervention by the PP, which would further damage the self-government of Catalonia and would aim to humiliate its institutions.

The reason is simple. Catalan sovereignty sentiment, even in its more nationalistic and conservative versions, remains a defensive phenomenon that can in no way be put on the same level as the aggressive Spanish nationalism deployed in recent years. This Spanish state nationalism, practiced by the PP and Citizens (and unfortunately too often by the PSOE) is in reality the source of the current situation of deadlock. Without it, the real blow against the Constitution represented, according to Pérez Royo[5], by the ruling against the Statute could not be understood. Nor could the PP’s exploitation of the Constitutional Court, of the Prosecutor General’s Office and of important legal organs, as so often denounced by progressive bodies like Judges for Democracy.[6] Nor could the mafia-like use against Catalan sovereignty of the intelligence and police services, carried out treacherously and with total brazenness.[7] Faced with this repeated violation of the rule of law, it is understandable that the right to decide, or rather, of self-determination, has arisen as a legitimate reaction which most citizens of Catalonia refuse to give up. And not for the first time. This right, recognised in international human rights treaties, was defended by the bulk of the democratic anti-Francoist movement— including the PSC and the PSOE—and has been reaffirmed on numerous occasions by the Catalan parliament. That the Catalan government is not in a position to guarantee its effective exercise via a referendum with full guarantees can be attributed to its poor reading of the political context. But the main responsibility here has to lie with the PP and its allies. Instead of repeatedly torpedoing the referendum, they could have opened the road it to through a simple reform of the organic referendum law, based on their absolute majority.[8] In a context like this, a failure for October 1 would be more than the failure for a government road map. It would be a decisive blow against the possibility of moving forward in the free exercise of the right to decide. And it would be a blow, too, against the republican and democratic initiatives that challenge the regime of 1978. In Catalonia, in Galiza,[9] in Euskadi and for all the peoples and territories of Spain. Faced with a regressive scenario like this, supporters of a republican and progressive sovereignty cannot stay at home. On the contrary, over and above their differences with the road map of the current government, the forces for change would make a serious mistake if they did not rise up against the PP and its attacks on the democratic demand for self-government. Inside Catalonia and outside.

In this context, if the Catalan government manages, without putting council workers at risk, to have ballot boxes and voting centres available on October 1, it would be difficult not to get involved—to curb the arrogance of the PP and as an act of affirmation of sovereignty. An actual vote could, legitimately and for reasons of substance, be either informal or No or Yes. In fact, a Yes vote could even make sense from a position of disagreement with the government’s road map. Firstly, as a form of rebellion against centralism and authoritarianism. And secondly, because it would also be a way of moving towards the majority position shared within the commons, rooted as it is in a tradition that goes from Pi i Margall[10] to Joaquin Maurin[11] to Lluís Companys[12]. That is, for a plurinational and respectful compact among equals that would challenge the oligarchical and elitist project of “tolerance”[13] imposed in recent years and which would open the door to a new free, republican and solidarity-based coexistence among the different nations and peoples of the peninsula.

In order for this to be possible, it is imperative, as recently suggested by the Galician republican sovereignty supporter Xose Manuel Beiras[14], that Spanish progressive and republican forces understand that most of the “peripheral” pro-sovereignty forces are their objective allies. And that the pro-sovereignty and progressive movements of the “peripheries” understand that, without initiatives that facilitate the alliance with these other forces, it will be hard to win the democratic battle we all share against the leaders of the current chauvinist and reactionary regime.

On the basis of these considerations, a “critical Yes” on October 1—anti-centralist, social and fraternal—looks like a proposal that a good part of the progressive pro-sovereignty movement could make its own. With an inalienable goal: to facilitate alliances that as soon as possible allow the stimulation of genuine constituent proposals—of republican, municipalist and internationalist refoundation—in the “peripheral” nations, in the whole of the State and, surely too, in Europe.

This twenty-first century republicanism cannot fail to question the role that the Borbon restoration[15] has played in the consolidation of a regime that is sub-democratic, speculative in economy and environmentally unsustainable, and not in any way respectful of the national plurality of “the bull-hide”.[16] But it must include, above all, a series of principles and rules that ensure the revival of public morality, social progress, the defense of the common good, respect for diversity, solidarity between present and future generations and democratic radicalisation (included the right of peoples to self-determination and to freely share sovereignty among themselves).

The great challenge is to make sure this fundamental project can take a step forward in the current noise and fog, on October 1 and in the weeks that follow. If we manage this, we will have contributed modestly, from our own small country, to the creation of a horizon of greater freedom–kinder and less brutal—for all ordinary women and men, on the peninsula and beyond.

September 5, 2017

Gerardo Pisarello is the first deputy mayor of Barcelona Council and one of the initiators of Catalunya en Comú.

Source: www.elcritic.cat/blogs/sentitcritic/2017/09/05/1-0-raons-per-mobilitzar-nos-i-votar/

Notes

[1] Vicenç Fisas is the director of the Autonomous University of Barcelona’s Culture of Peace School.

[2] See document 1, Note 3.

[3] The reference is to Santi Vila, minister for enterprise and learning in the Catalan government.

[4] The former leader of ERC, and deputy premier in the 2003-2010 “tripartite” Catalan government of PSC, ERC and ICV.

[5] Javier Pérez Royo is a Spanish constitutional lawyer and academic at the University of Seville. His most recent work, The Unviable Constitutional Reform, argues that the present Spanish Constitution cannot be reformed and that a new constitutional process is needed.

[6] Judges For Democracy groups together progressive judges and magistrates in the Spanish judicial system. Its conservative counterpart is the Professional Association of the Judiciary.

[7] See the documentary The State’s Secret Cesspit, subtitled in English, at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hXrYBUAcYUo.

[8] The PP enjoyed an absolute majority of 186 out of 350 seats in the 2011-2015 Spanish parliament.

[9] Galiza is Galicia in Galician. Euskadi is the Basque County in Basque.

[10] Francesc Pi I Margall was a republican and federalist Catalan intellectual and politician who was briefly prime minister of the First Republic (1873).

[11] Joaquin Maurín was a leader of the Workers Party of Marxist Reunification (POUM) in the 1920s and 1930s. His best-known work is Revolución y Contrarevolución en España (not to be confused with Felix Morrow’s Revolution and Counterrevolution in Spain).

[12] Lluís Companys (ERC) was the premier of Catalonia from 1031 to 1939. He was executed by the Francoists in 1940.

[13] In Spanish in the original text—conllevancia. Conllevancia was a term coined by philosopher José Ortega y Gasset during the drafting of the republican constitution of 1931. In the face of the apparent incompatibility between Catalan demands for sovereignty and unitary Spanish nationalism, Otega said (in a famous parliamentary debate with prime minister Manuel Azaña): “The Catalan problem is something that can’t be resolved. It can only be put up with (solo se puede conllevar). It is a perpetual problem and always has been. [It existed] before there was peninsular unity, and it will continue to exist while Spain lasts.”

[14] See here for an interview with Xosé Manuel Beiras and here for coverage of the rise of the Galician Left Alternative (AGE) in which Beiras was the key initiating figure.

[15] Refers to the incorporation of the Borbon monarchy into the 1978 constitution after the dictator Franco made King Juan Carlos his heir. The last Borbon monarch had previously been Alfonso XIII, who abdicated after republican and socialist forces won a majority in the 1931 municipal elections.

[16] The reference is to the poetic sequence La Pell de Brau (“The Bull-hide”) of Catalan poet Salvador Espriu. “La pell de brau” is an image both of the Spanish peninsula and of its various peoples. The poem is a detailed reflection on their mutual need to refind their commonality-in-difference after the disaster of the 1936-39 Civil War. There is an English translation by Burton Raffel.