Enacting a Republic to break from Spanish state repression is close on the horizon for the movement, and there is evidence that mobilisation can reach new heights, reports Jack Sherwood from Barcelona
Victory in the regional elections on December 21st in Catalonia, imposed by the Spanish state, is essential for pro-independence forces (made up of the centre-left, centre-right and anti-capitalist parties). Without a majority of seats, independence will be much harder to achieve for a number of reasons. A majority in votes would be a historic gain that could propel the movement forward more than ever and significantly increase pressure for international recognition.
The first ‘tracking’ 5-day poll, just taken, predicts a majority of seats but not votes (with vote share very slightly down on 2015). Some in the movement - including the Catalan President - have likened it to a second referendum and the Spanish Prime Minister opines that it will hail the restoration of “normality”, by which he means continued suppression of progressive Catalan legislation and autonomous government, along with continued austerity.
This first point may sound obvious but the illegitimacy of the elections - called without authority from the Catalan parliament, which was indeed dissolved by the imposed Spanish ‘direct rule’ of consitutional article 155 - has been a cause of some demoralisation, disorientation and even complacency in the movement; tendencies which must be subjected to the urgent demands of the concrete political situation ahead.
For anyone on the left internationally who doubts the importance of such a victory, it’s worth being explicit about the two other clear options. First, a volatile situation favouring a minority or coalition regional government that excludes the unionist forces (none of which are progressive) which has a weakened mandate for independence and is still subject to dissolution at the hands of direct rule and with an arguably weaker mandate. Second, less likely and even worse; unionist rule led by a hardcore neoliberal populist party that has supported the most extreme elements of repression (‘Citizens’), backed up by Spain’s governing Tory (Popular) party and the Blairite (in our terms) ‘socialist’ party.
It is also important that independence wins as decisively as possible, and on a high point of popular mobilisation like to that of the general strike of October 3rd in which over two million participated and which the CUP radical independence party rightly says should have been swiftly followed by a unilateral declaration. Importantly to remember, the declaration was instead delayed until 27th October, allowing a significant ebb in the movement, which lost direction in the crucial days following.
In this way the elections should be seen as two-week event of political mass mobilisation as much as another opportunity to win a democratic mandate for independence. Such tactics - of a highly visible presence in the streets and open, dynamic events will likely be crucial in securing a progressive youth vote for independence and maximising turnout in a way which might go beyond the predictions of the polls - as we are familiar with from the British general election campaign of 2017.
I’ll be in Catalonia for much of this period and will give further reports, as well as live blogging here.
The rebuilding of a huge level of popular mobilisation over the election period will be crucial in order to gather forces to be able to drive through the restoration of the institutions of Catalan government and the immediate enactment of decrees to establish the Republic, in the face of what will be Spanish state attempts to publicly discredit any result against its favour (using its highly supportive corporate media and judicial apparatuses) with likely further attempts at violent repression or disruption and mass arrests.
Few in the movement expect the centrist leadership of the main Catalan pro-independence parties to be significantly more reliable and less prone to vacillation and moderation than in previous months. There has even been some talk from the latter of ‘returning to bilateralism’ (more nonexistant ‘dialogue’ with the Spanish state) and prioritising securing regional autonomy ahead of decisive measures to enact the Republic. Many Catalan activists expect the Republic can only be delivered ‘from below’ and cannot countenance another post-October 27 moment, where it was left unimplemented and undefended following declaration as half the government fled to Belgium to avoid a stand-off with explicit threats of intensified Spanish state violence on the streets.
Not forgotten, not lost
So it was very encouraging to see in the last week the election campaign prefaced by four days of mass mobilisation. This will now continue with today’s mass demonstration in Brussels, labelled “Wake Up Europe: democracy for Catalonia” but also raising the themes of the four political prisoners still being held after over a month and of the popular will for a Republic, expected to attract 50,000 mainly from Catalonia.
Following weeks of fairly low levels of activity, for reasons I will look at in another piece, the movement has come back into life.
On the evening of Friday (Dec 1st), arguably the most militant city of recent months, Lleida, held a demonstration of up to 1000 for the two month anniversary of the October referendum - marching between the schools that served as polling stations and which were assaulted and raided by Spanish police. This doesn’t approach the 12,000 they mustered from around the region on November 5th, but it was good to see the Republic Defence Committees taking initiative again in a way that other formtions are not able to. It tweeted: "Organisation and disobedience will vote in the republic and will be a people #NotForgottenNotLost.”
However the stand out action of the day was the ‘Yellow Friday’ day of resistance to Spanish direct rule - the sacking of ministers and other officials and takeover of public institutions - by Catalan civil service and public sector workers, organised by the burgeoning ADIC network (Workers Assemblies for the Defence of Catalan Institutions). Spectacular mass human formations of the yellow freedom ribbon (which has been banned from use by public officials by the Electoral Board), 500m long human chains and mass rallies were formed outside buildings of Catalan government departments for culture, housing, interior, foreign affairs, universities in Barcelona and Girona. With all participants wearing various kinds of yellow bows in defiance to state censorship.
Numbers were amplified on Saturday in a wave of action. A number of Republic Defence Committees across Catalonia held days of action, workshops and communal dinners. 300 ate paella together at the Tarrega committee day. Up to two hundred attended a related day workshop and evening rally called Raise the Republicin Barcelona. However, the most attention grabbing of these events was the inaugural demonstration of the defence committee for FC Barcelona supporters! They set off late morning on a 2km march and gathered a crowd of hundreds, with a giant ‘Freedom!’ banner and chants of “Free political prisoners” and “Nou camp will always be ours”, ending at the doors into the stadium before the start of the match, capturing national media attention.
In perhaps the most compelling scenes of the weekend, which recalled those of the October 1st referendum and of police raids on September 20th, many hundreds of people turned out to defend the headquarters of the radical independence party the CUP from a fifty-strong fascist mobilisation aiming to disrupt their ‘political council’ meeting to agree their election agenda. Many of those attending were not CUP members but saw the importance of opposing attack on the left and on democratic process, and in the wake of rejections from the Spanish state’s Electoral Board and the police to prohibit the fascist demo, it was an inspiring sight to see once again ordinary people taking direct action for themselves to defend their freedoms. A large anti-fascist demo also took place in the town of Sant Just, since far right attacks on individuals and buildings have been appearing with regularity in the past month.
This was followed in the evening by the most impressive mobilisation since the massive November 11th demonstration: 50,000 people gathered despite freezing temperatures at the Concert for Freedom in Barcelona’s Olympic stadium, organised by the Catalan National Assembly and dedicated to raising (bail) funds and solidarity for the political prisoners as well as a hugely positive celebration of musical culture in the territory. The event was live televised, featured a host of big names and once again presented the moving image of a sea of torch lights in solidarity.
Though it might have seemed difficult to follow such a day, Sunday saw a truly spectacular representation of the depth of feeling and breadth of organisation in the movement - of which kind must surely continue to be harnessed to energise this election campaign. Up to 10,000 participants and supporters turned out for the Musicians for Freedom concert in the Placa Espanyol in Barcelona; with stunning scenes of a wall of acoustic sound projecting Catalonia’s heritage anthems and a sea of instruments and banners catching media attention once again.
Another striking development was the yellow ribbon-bombing of several bridges in Barcelona (La Torrassa, Molinet and Sarajevo) by local republic defence committees, involving up to a hundred people in one case. The tactic is being repeated in many other towns since then, making the struggle for democratic freedom a part of the daily eyeline, in a beautiful fashion, but one designed to militate against the ‘normalisation’ of repressive measures against freedom of speech which have been undertaken by the Electoral Board.
Scent of freedom
Finally, mass protest across the region in its thousands broke out on Monday, the eve of theelection campaign’s first day, following the news that six of the imprisoned Catalan government ministers had been released on bail by a Spanish Supreme Court judge, but two more (including the Vice President) - along with the two famous civil independence leaders ‘the Jordis’ - were to be kept in jail. Three of the four are candidates in the elections.
The Catalan National Assembly called the action at only a few hours notice, but town squares filled up from rural villages to all the major cities. One of the chants of the evening was “No hi son tots” (This isn’t all of them!), and the sense of the day was that the Spanish court’s decision had backfired - succeeding neither in demoralising nor in legitimising the elections, maintaining the symbolic figures of a whole country’s imprisonment whilst firing the scent of freedom and setting loose what will be six potent, now somewhat hallowed, leading campaigners for independence.
The movement is on the front foot and the best news of the moment is that the grassroots Republic Defence Committees, which have brought many new people into the movement, are not waiting for orders from above; they’ve called their own demonstration in Barcelona to coincide with the major one happening in Brussels (which is promoting democratic rights and freedoms and the popular cause of the republic), under the banner: "For a people's Europe ; for self-determination.”
The protest in Barcelona on Monday night ended with a mass rendition of what has been an anthem of the movement for Catalan liberation for decades, L’Estaca (The Stake)by legendary sing-songwriter and campaigner Lluís Llach:
If I pull hard from here
and you pull hard from there,
surely it falls, falls, falls,
and we will be able to free ourselves!
Securing a victory and enactment of the Republic at the coming elections is indeed likely to require all of Catalonia’s popular classes to pull hard at once, and from different angles. The events of the past week show renewed promise that this will be possible.
Jack Sherwood has been an organiser in the People's Assembly and Stop the War.
Based in Bristol, he coordinated the largest demonstrations and public meetings in the city 2014-2019: against austerity, in support of Jeremy Corbyn's leadership of Labour, over the Junior Doctors' struggle and against the British bombing of Syria.
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