Further repression will only radicalise the situation in Catalonia further, argues Chris Bambery
The situation in Catalonia becomes clearer by the day. The Spanish state is prepared to use the full battery of its powers to prevent the people of Catalonia expressing themselves on whether to quit Spain or not, in a peaceful, democratic way. Since unleashing their para-military police last Sunday to beat voters and to smash their way into ballot stations to seize ballot boxes and voting papers, the repressive policies of the right wing government of Mariano Rajoy have mounted. The latest incident is the decision of the Spanish constitutional court to ban a meeting of Catalonia’s parliament on Monday.
The Guardia Civil and National Police remain in Catalonia and the army has moved in to provide logistical support. Rumours that Madrid will order the arrest of the Catalan President, Carles Puigdemont are spreading, given credence by the fact that the head of the Catalan police was ordered to appear before a court in Madrid on Friday charged with sedition. The suspension of Catalonia’s Statute of Autonomy and the imposition of direct rule by Madrid is also being widely touted.
What is happening here is that the Spanish state, by its actions, is fuelling support for independence in Catalonia. The extraordinary result last Sunday, and the fact the referendum went ahead in large part, is proof of that. Many who would not have previously voted for independence did so and, further, took to the streets and occupied polling stations to ensure voting happened.
The sheer size and breadth of last Tuesday’s general strike is further proof of that. Most of Catalonia has already left the building.
To grasp why let's just examine the Spanish Constitutional Court, an unelected body, which has form in relation to Catalonia. Back in 2010, when most Catalans would have settled on greater devolution within the Spanish state, this court struck out several crucial clauses of a new Statute of Autonomy, agreed by both the Spanish and Catalan parliaments and approved by a referendum across Catalonia. That, coming on the back of the 2008 financial crash and the collapse of the Spanish economy, shifted large numbers to support for independence. If Spain’s top court disregarded their wishes what hopes could they have of reaching an equitable deal with Spain.
Since then this court has struck down a number of Catalan laws passed in its parliament and, of course, declared the 1 October referendum illegal.
The Catalan government, a coalition of centre right (which didn’t support independence itself until 2010), and the centre left, has responded with dignity to the onslaught unleashed on it from Madrid. But it finds driven by two forces: the repressive response of the Spanish state on the one hand, and a popular mass movement on the other. And the situation is radicalising on both sides. The popular movement has shifted in a more radical direction while the Spanish state has itself become more Spanish nationalist and unleashed the forces of right wing nationalism onto the streets.
In that situation it is almost impossible to see a compromise being reached. The Rajoy government in Madrid has not given house room to the proposal from the Catalan government that they attempt mediation. The right wing Popular Party administration is secure in the knowledge it has the support of the opposition Socialist Party and the neo-liberal Ciudadanos party. The Catalan Socialist Party (the branch office of the Spanish party) were the ones who brought the case to court which ended with the judgement outlawing the meeting of the Catalan Party).
The mass movement in Catalonia is not going to go away and arresting the President or sending the army in will just lead to another, greater explosion of anger.
In this situation a declaration of independence assumes great importance. It throws down a challenge to Spain, which will react in the only way it knows, by lashing out. But that must be met with popular mobilisation in Catalonia, including building on the success of Tuesday’s strike, appeals for opposition to Rajoy’s repression to mobilise in Spain and a call for solidarity across Europe.
On the first point, a new Catalan Republic has to be declared and built. Popular assemblies can co-ordinate opposition to Rajoy but also begin to assume control of affairs currently in the hands of the Spanish state.
On the second, it is important that an argument is carried into Spain that working people there have no interest in backing Rajoy and the Guardia Civil. The repression used in Barcelona will be unleashed in the future in Madrid, Seville or Valencia. That argument has to be carried beyond the organised forces of Podemos and the United Left, who to their credit opposed Rayoy’s crack down even though they don’t support independence.
That also means challenging strange arguments such as the Catalan bourgeoisie want independence to feather their own nest. One, they don’t and never have. As seen the announcement by the Banco Sabadell that it was moving its HQ from Barcelona to Alicante.
The third element is Europe. Official Europe, the European Commission and the European Union, has rallied behind Rajoy, emphasising that the referendum was illegal and state violence was “proportionate” and justifiable. They are going to find it hard to maintain that line, although they will try, because people across Europe were horrified by the scenes from Barcelona they saw last Sunday. By mobilising solidarity with Catalonia, bringing the Unofficial Europe onto the street, we have a chance to ignite a huge row which the EU will find it hard to contain.
Here in Britain we should pressurise our government, if there was one at Westminster! In Scotland, Catalonia has revitalised the pro-independence movement and given it an edge its lacked for some time. The Catalans offer a way forward which is attractive in every way. Radical Independence and others need to ensure that does not slip away and we build on that momentum.
South of the border what’s crucial is that Jeremy Corbyn advances beyond his welcome condemnation of last Sunday’s state violence and challenges the Spanish government to back away from its refusal to let the Catalan’s decide their future. That’s important because it would have an impact on the Spanish Socialist Party and it would help build the debate across Europe.
But the simple truth is Catalonia is going. The Spanish state has ensured that. Further repression will only radicalise the situation in Catalonia further. This crisis will not be resolved soon. It can only grow and grow.
Chris Bambery is an author, political activist and commentator, and a supporter of Rise, the radical left wing coalition in Scotland. His books include A People's History of Scotland and The Second World War: A Marxist Analysis.