In the space of a few days, the Catalan Republic was declared and then strangled. Jorge Martin analyses the latest dramatic events in Catalonia.

After a week of about turns, indecision and last minute attempts to find a negotiated way out, the Catalan Republic was proclaimed on Friday 27th October. Tens of thousands celebrated in the streets of Barcelona and other Catalan towns and cities. But the newly born Republic was short-lived, with the Catalan leaders failing to mount any real resistance to the Spanish state's repression.

After a week of about turns, indecision and last minute attempts to find a negotiated way out, the Catalan Republic was proclaimed on Friday 27th October. Tens of thousands celebrated in the streets of Barcelona and other Catalan towns and cities.

As expected, the Spanish state responded by sacking the Catalan government, disbanding the Catalan Parliament and calling for Catalan elections on 21st December. The stage was set for a major confrontation, but the bourgeois and petty bourgeois nationalists in the Catalan government fled the scene. By Monday, the Spanish state was set to take back full control without having broken a single window pane.

At the beginning of last week, everything indicated that Puigdemont would have no other option but to declare independence. The Spanish government had announced a series of measures against Catalan self-rule under article 155 of the Constitution and was going to get them approved in the Spanish Senate by 27th October, with full support from Cs [Ciudadanos] and the PSOE [Socialist Party]. Puigdemont had made several attempts to open a dialogue with Rajoy and to seek mediation from the European Union, but every time he had been rebuffed in no uncertain terms.

On Wednesday, a meeting of the Junts pel Sí (JxSi) group in the Catalan Parliament (comprising Puigdemont’s PDECAT, Junqueras’ ERC and a few independents) had given the Catalan president full backing for a declaration of independence. In the evening of the same day there were big indoor meetings called by ERC, PDECAT and also the Catalan National Assembly (ANC) to explain to their members and supporters that the plan was to declare the Catalan Republic by Friday.

That same evening there was a protest organised by the Barcelona county Committees for the Defence of the Referendum to press for the declaration of the Republic. The rally took place in Plaça Sant Jaume but the Catalan government had decided to close off Parc de la Ciutadella, where the Catalan Parliament building is located. As on 10th October, the Catalan government wanted to make sure Parliament would not meet under the direct pressure of the masses.

Then there was a wobble. A meeting of the general staff of the pro-independence movement had spilled over into Thursday morning, but it seemed that the option was still that of declaring independence. However, that night had been one of feverish phone calls and conversations brokered by Basque president Urkullu and his PNV (Basque Nationalist Party). Urkullu is in a very sticky situation. He has an agreement with Rajoy by which the Basque Nationalist Party gives the PP the necessary votes in the Spanish parliament to pass the budget in exchange for fiscal concessions to the Basque administration. However, the Catalan conflict has strained this pact. The PNV has been put in the difficult position of propping up the Spanish government which is suppressing Catalan democratic rights. It is therefore in the interest of the Basque capitalists and in the political interest of the PNV that an agreement should be reached.

The basis of the compromise suggested was that Puigdemont would call for early elections to the Catalan parliament, instead of declaring independence. In exchange, it seems he was asking for immunity from prosecution and the release of the “two Jordis” (the leaders of the ANC and Òmnium, held without bail on charges of sedition). On Thursday morning, 26th October, it seemed that such a deal was on the cards. Puigdemont announced he was going to make a statement at noon. The Spanish stock exchange rallied.

However, there were a number of factors which scuppered the deal. First of all, there is the reactionary nature of the Spanish ruling class, for whom the unity of Spain is a sacrosanct principle, one of the pillars of the 1978 regime. From their point of view, any concessions on this question would threaten the whole edifice. Giving Puigdemont a way out might have been interpreted as a sign of weakness. Rajoy is under pressure from the right wing of his own party and from Ciudadanos, both of which see rabid Spanish nationalism as a vote winner. In the end, the promise of a deal brokered by Urkullu with the Spanish government did not materialise.

The new Catalan Republic

Additionally, as news filtered through that Puigdemont was going to announce elections instead of declaring the Republic, pressure began mounting from within his own camp. Two PDECAT Catalan parliament members announced they were renouncing their seats and tearing up their party cards. PDECAT’s ally in JxSi, ERC was already talking of a betrayal.

Puigdemont was like the proverbial Duke of York. Having marched his troops to the top of the hill, it was now difficult to convince them to march down again. To top it up, tens of thousands of students were on the streets demanding the Republic be proclaimed. The student strike had been called for in advance and the demonstrators received the news of Puigdemont’s climbdown as the march was about to set off from Plaça Universitat. The mood turned angry. There were shouts against Puigdemont (“be warned PDECAT, our patience has run out”). The demonstration made its way to Plaça Sant Jaume, outside the Generalitat building and students vowed not to leave until the Republic had been proclaimed.

First, Puigdemont delayed his statement by an hour. Then he said it was not going to take place. Then it was moved from the Palace to the Parliament for 5pm, just before the Parliament session was due to start. By the time he spoke, the deal was off. Still, instead of announcing boldly that he had decided to move forward and proclaim the Republic, he fudged the issue again by announcing he had considered calling elections but hadn’t managed to get a deal and then saying he was putting the issue to Parliament for it to decide, without making any concrete proposal. That was yet another sign of things to come.

Finally, on Friday 27th October, the Catalan Parliament declared independence with 70 votes in favour, two abstentions and 10 votes against, after the PP, Cs and PSOE abandoned the session in protest. Tens of thousands of people who were outside waiting for the decision followed the vote with rapt attention and then erupted in celebratory cheers. The celebration then went to Plaça Sant Jaume. As far as they were concerned, the Catalan Republic had been born and they were ready to defend it.

Coup and climbdown

Almost simultaneously, the Spanish Senate approved the article 155 measures requested by the government. Rajoy proceeded to announce the specific measures: dismissal of the Catalan government, its president and vice-president and all the consellers (ministers); the dismissal of the head of the Catalan police; the disbanding of the Catalan parliament and the convening of early elections on 21st December. The Catalan government would be run directly from Madrid, with the different ministers of the Spanish government in charge of the corresponding departments in Catalonia.

This amounted to a coup, but Rajoy had made some changes to his original plan. Instead of a direct intervention which would last six months, this was to be for the shortest possible period of time required to call early elections in Catalonia. Clearly the Spanish ruling class was fearful of sparking a mass protest movement and wanted to legitimise the measures as soon as possible.

The response of the “international community” was also swift. The EU, NATO, the OECD, France, Germany, Britain, the US State Department, all rushed to declare their full support for “Spanish legality”, the unity of Spain and to reject the Catalan declaration. The hopes of the Catalan bourgeois and petty bourgeois nationalist leaders to get international recognition of some sort were dashed, as could have been predicted.

The situation at the end of the day on Friday was one where there were two different institutional bodies, the Catalan Republic and the Spanish Monarchy, existing at the same time. A situation like this could not last. One of the two had to prevail over the other. The Spanish state started to take measures, one after the other, to make sure Spanish legality prevailed. But what did the leaders of the Catalan Republic do? Basically, nothing, other than issue vague statements talking of “democratic resistance”.

Starting on Friday night, the meeting of the Catalan government which was supposed to take a series of measures to implement the decision to declare the Republic, took no decisions at all. None.

On Saturday morning, the Spanish state removed the head of the Catalan police, Pere Soler and its major Trapero. The first thing you do in a coup is ensure you control the armed bodies of mean. They both abided by the order and in a written statement advised Catalan police officers to follow orders. What did the Catalan government do about this? Nothing.

PDECAT and ERC representatives who are members of the Spanish Congress and Senate did not renounce their seats in what was to them in effect a foreign parliament.

The whole weekend the Catalan government, which was supposed to be busy building a new Republic, did nothing. Well, president Puigdemont did issue a recorded statement in which he called for “democratic opposition” to article 155 measures. That was it. No appeal to resistance, no concrete plan on how to resist, no measures taken by the government. And the Spanish flag was still flying over the Generalitat Palace.

Catalan vice-president Junqueras (from the ERC) penned an article warning that “in the next few days we will have to take decisions that will not always be easy to understand”. He was clearly preparing his own ranks for the climbdown which had already been decided.

Right wing mobilises 

Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands (300,000 according to the local police) marched in a wholly reactionary demonstration in Barcelona in defence of Spanish unity. The march was called by SCC (a shady body whose founders have links with the far right, but which has since tried to clean up its image) and had the full backing of the PP, Ciudadanos as well as the Catalan branch of the Socialist Party. The march was backed by half a dozen openly far-right, fascist, neo-nazi and racist organisations which afterwards attacked the Generalitat and carried out a number of racist and fascist attacks. The demonstration was big, but slightly down on the previous Spanish unity march on 8th October.

Clearly this was not a fascist demonstration. Fascist grouplets represent a small fringe, although in the last few weeks they have been unleashed with the connivance and complicity of the Spanish state and they need to be combatted. The bulk of the demonstration was made up of voters of right-wing parties from the upper class neighbourhoods of Barcelona, the spoilt brats from Pedralbes, Sarrià-Sant Gervasi; as well as backward layers from working class neighbourhoods and towns in Barcelona and its red belt. Scandalously, the former general secretary of the Communist Party, Francisco Frutos, was one of the keynote speakers ranting against “identitarian racism” to a sea of Spanish flags and voters of Spanish reactionary nationalist parties.

Monday morning, the new head of the Catalan police, under instructions from the Spanish minister in charge, announced that the now deposed consellers would be allowed to go to their offices but only to collect their personal belongings. If they refused to go, the police was to write up a report and send it to the prosecutor’s office.

President of the Catalan Parliament Carme Forcadell, who had announced that an ordinary meeting of the Speakers would take place on Tuesday, cancelled it and admitted that Parliament had been dissolved.

A meeting of the leading body of ERC has decided that they “would be present on December 21”, the day of the elections called under article 155 by Rajoy. A short while later PDECAT announced in no uncertain terms that they would participate in those elections. These decisions, and others which we will see in the next few days, represent a complete acceptance of the Spanish state’s coup against Catalan democracy and a refusal to defend the Republic they voted to proclaim on Friday.

Silence of the leadership

At the time of writing these lines it has been announced that Catalan president Puigdemont is in Brussels together with some members of his government. That does not change anything fundamental. Meanwhile, the Spanish state prosecutor has indicted the Catalan president, vice-president and all the Catalan government consellers, as well as the president and speakers of the Catalan Parliament, for rebellion, sedition, misuse of public funds and other related charges. This is a serious warning as rebellion carries a 30 year jail sentence.

Incidentally, these crimes (rebellion and sedition) are listed in the Spanish penal code which was inherited wholesale, without amendment, from that of Franco. This tells you something about the real character of the Spanish so-called “transition” to democracy which left the state apparatus of the dictatorship intact. Furthermore, even according to that reactionary penal code there are no grounds for the charges of rebellion, as that crime implies a “violent rising,” something which has clearly not taken place.

The Catalan bourgeois and petty bourgeois politicians have gone quite far in their defiance of the Spanish state, but have done so always in a reluctant manner, pushed forward by combined pressure of the refusal of the Spanish state to make any concessions and the irruption of the masses on to the scene (on September 20, October 1 and 3).

This is fully in line with the character of these bourgeois and petty bourgeois politicians as we have warned time and time again. The exercise of the right of self-determination in the concrete conditions of Spain is a revolutionary task which can only be accomplished by revolutionary means (or as a by-product of a revolutionary movement). That is the last thing the leaders of the PDECAT want, and the leaders of ERC have acted all along as an appendix of PDECAT (even though in reality they are much stronger electorally than them, in a ratio of 3 to 1).

The attitude of these bourgeois and petty bourgeois nationalists fits the words of Marx in his 18th Brumaire down to the last comma:

“If a real struggle was intended, then it was a queer idea to lay down the weapons with which it would have to be waged. But the revolutionary threats of the petty bourgeois and their democratic representatives are mere attempts to intimidate the antagonist. And when they have run into a blind alley, when they have sufficiently compromised themselves to make it necessary to activate their threats, then this is done in an ambiguous fashion that avoids nothing so much as the means to the end and tries to find excuses for succumbing. The blaring overture that announced the contest dies away in a pusillanimous snarl as soon as the struggle has to begin, the actors cease to take themselves au serieux, and the action collapses completely, like a pricked bubble.”

It has to be said that to the left of JxSi no one has taken up the task of organising the defence of the Catalan Republic on the streets through mass mobilisation, disobedience and strengthening the Committees for the Defence of the Referendum. Workers at the Catalan state media had already warned that they would not accept any imposed directors. The main union of public school teachers in Catalonia, USTEC-STEs had also vowed to resist intervention in the education system. The main union of Catalan civil servants (CATAC) had also rejected article 155 but stopped short of calling for disobedience.

The possibility to wage a struggle to defend the Republic was clearly there. Had the Catalan government started to act in a decisive and bold manner and made an appeal to the masses to defend it, there would have been a serious struggle and it is not clear which way it would have gone. This is the perspectives that the Spanish Marxists of Lucha de Clases and the Catalan Marxists of Revolució advanced over the weekend.

Unfortunately, even the CUP, the most consistent and left-wing of the pro-independence parties, remained mostly silent and gave no indications nor leadership to the movement. It would seem that even during the week leading up to the declaration of the republic, they were entangled in the discussions with JxSi over tactics rather than making direct appeals to the mass movement over the heads of the government. The slogans they advanced were correct: “Bread, housing and work - Republic Now”, and they played a decisive role in promoting the formation of the CDRs and their national coordination. They seemed to lack a clear independent strategy with which to struggle to take over the leadership of the movement and they ended up mostly responding to the decisions taken by the Catalan government.

Clear lessons must be learnt from this experience. The struggle for the right of self-determination and for a Catalan republic can only be waged by revolutionary means, through mass mobilisation. It can therefore not be victorious under the leadership of the petty bourgeois politicians but only under that of the working class.

For that to be possible it cannot be limited to a struggle for democratic and national rights, but these must be closely linked to social demands which can only be resolved through the expropriation of the capitalist class. As the struggle for a Catalan Republic threatens the whole edifice of the 1978 regime, it should seek and forge alliances with the working people of the Spanish state. These ideas can be summarised in the slogan we have put forward: for a Catalan Socialist Republic as a spark to the Iberian revolution.

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