The mass movement can create an independent Catalonia and must be supported across Europe, argues Chris Bambery
Catalonia is waiting for the Spanish government to decide its fate. The Popular Party government of Mariano Rajoy has made it clear it will invoke Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution, abolishing the Statute of Autonomy for Catalonia, and allowing the Madrid government to take control of Catalan affairs to “to restore legality.”
For most Catalans and most outside observers the greatest act of illegality was Rajoy unleashing the Guardia Civil and the National Police on those trying to vote in the 1 October independence referendum, smashing their way into polling stations, seizing ballot boxes and beating those queueing to cast their ballot. Those police remain on board two ferries in Barcelona’s port and elsewhere in Catalonia.
Since then we have seen Madrid imprison Jordi Sánchez, the president of the Catalan National Assembly (ANC), and Jordi Cuixart, the president of Òmnium Cultural, on charges of sedition. Such a charge no longer exists in the UK but was used frequently in the 18th and 19th centuries as a catch all charge under which to imprison radicals. Both the ANC and Òmnium are mass membership civil organisations, with the latter highly prestigious in the cultural field. If follows the brief jailing of the head of the Catalan police. He and around two dozen Catalan government officials remain under charge awaiting trial.
The use of riot police on 1 October and the continuing repression has had two effects. It has driven a further section of the population who were not going to vote on 1 October or vote against leaving Spain into the independence camp. It has also radicalised that movement.
That was evident in the grass roots response to the Spanish state’s threat to block the referendum when ordinary people on mass took over local schools and other buildings being used as polling stations. It was evident too in the general strike which took place on the Tuesday afterwards.
That movement was thrown into confusion at the close of that week when the Catalan President, Carles Puigdemont, declared Catalonia independent but then added that would be put on hold while he sought negotiations with Madrid. The imprisonment of the two Jordis was widely seen as Rajoy’s answer to that, and the mass movement took to the streets again with verve.
Meanwhile, Rajoy has won the agreement of the opposition Socialist Party to impose new regional elections on Catalonia in January. The Socialist Party shares Rajoy and the PP’s commitment to maintaining the unity of Spain, and to building up Madrid as the economic and financial centre of the Spanish state. Its support in Catalonia has been eroding over the last decade because of that.
Rajoy’s hope must be that between now and January he can scare and intimidate enough people into voting No to independence, although it’s a dangerous gamble on his part. Matters cannot be allowed to rest until elections.
What will happen now is the Spanish cabinet will meet on Sunday and invoke Article 155. Because it’s never been used no one is quite clear what that will mean in effect, but it would seem certain the immediate steps would be to take control of the Catalan police and government finances. It will require the deployment once again of thousands of riot police.
Puigdemont has said if Madrid does this the Catalan Parliament will vote to implement the declaration of independence. The creation of a Catalan Republic is a vital step unless the mass movement finds itself following the footsteps of the Grand Old Duke of York, and being told to march back down the hill again.
That mass movement has a vital role to play in making sure Catalonia is ungovernable for Spain by obstructing every effort by Madrid to impose its control.
The fact that the European Union has rallied to Rajoy has created anger and bitterness in Catalonia. Across Europe we need to turn up the heat on our rulers for supporting repression in Catalonia. Theresa May has joined in too, telling Rajoy the referendum was illegal and the “rule of law” must be maintained. She obviously wants his support over Brexit, and he has gone silent over Spanish claims to Gibraltar!
Here we need to build solidarity with Catalonia. The Catalan Defence Committee in Scotland provides a model, uniting as it does figures from the SNP, Labour and the Greens, academics and trade unionists and the radical left. Down south it’s important to follow that example and to lobby hard Labour MPs to denounce the actions of the Spanish state.
This is a fight that is not going to be over in the short term. In conversation with Catalans I was told of a pensioner and her daughter who were not going to vote on 1 October but went and voted Yes in response to the police violence but it brought back vivid memories for the mother of life under the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco. Rajoy clearly thought he could intimidate and frighten these people. Far from it.
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.