Monday, October 30, 2017

‘Issue of popular sovereignty is front and centre’: Podemos anticapitalists

Following the Catalan Parliament’s declaration of independence on October 27, Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias tweeted: “We are against repression and for a negotiated referendum [which the Madrid government refused to Catalonia] but the declaration of independence is illegitimate and favours the strategy of the PP [People’s Party, headed by Spanish premier Mariano Rajoy].”

However, the Anticapitalists current in Podemos (spokepersons MEP Miguel Urban and Podemos Andalusia general secretary Teresa Rodriguez) issued the following statement recognizing the result of the October 1 referendum. Text translated by Dick Nichols on his excellent and informative live blog from Barcelona.

* * *

Anticapitalistas communiqué on the situation in Catalonia

1. On 27 October, in fulfilment of the mandate of the referendum of 1 October in which despite police repression more than two million people participated, the Catalan Parliament proclaimed the Catalan Republic. In a Spain with a monarchy that is a direct successor of the dictator Franco, a Republic that opens up  a constituent process is without doubt a proposal that breaks with the 1978 regime, with its political consensus and with a constitutional order that serves the elites. This proclamation occurs in a context of constant threats to apply article 155 and impose an authoritarian outcome on a conflict that demands an eminently political and democratic solution. In fact, in recent days the application of 155 had come to be threatened  no matter what happened. We call for the application of article 155 to be rejected and for democratic, peaceful and disobedient defence of the will of the Catalan people and of their right to decide.

2. In these times of exacerbation of patriotic passions it is important to
correctly define those responsible for events. The People's Party, spurred on by Citizens and with the support of the PSOE and under pressure from the state apparatus, had decided to apply article 155 of the Constitution. The goal of this measure was to prevent a dialogue between Catalunya and the rest of the State, criminalising the Catalan people, refusing to entertain the solution of a negotiated referendum and justifying the use of force to solve a political problem. An irresponsible operation, which seeks to reorganise the unity of the State along authoritarian lines.

3.  We are aware that many unknowns and uncertainties are now opening up. To dope the people with easy slogans is typical of a conception of politics that shies away from democratic debate and considers itself lead actor in a story that is actually the work of ordinary people. The new Catalan Republic faces internal challenges that cannot be ignored in a country where a significant section of the population does not feel represented by the pro-independence movement. The first challenge for the process is to work to overcome this division, integrating the popular sectors not supportive of independence into a project for the country, avoiding the social confrontation that only benefits the forces of reaction while at the same time organising a movement capable of resisting the repression of the State. The constituent process must be an instrument operating in that direction, integrating the demands of the popular classes that go beyond the national question, putting social issues in the centre and radically democratising Catalonia.

4. In the Spanish State, we are living through a complex wave of reaction. Many people, including people on the left, feel hurt and torn by events in Catalonia. While it is true that a good part of this feeling is channeled into a
Catalanaphobic reaction, heir of the worst sentiments of the Franco regime, and also into the violent expressions of the extreme right on the street, a large section of the population is honestly concerned about what is happening in Catalonia and puts its trust in dialogue and negotiation, in a return to politics.

From our point of view, what is fundamentally at stake is the possibility of
people deciding their future. If the Catalan people suffers defeat and is
crushed by the PP and its accomplices, when a territory, a town council, a
community or a social sector decide to commit itself to a position on any issue it will be crushed with the same logic with which today the PP and the state are seeking to crush Catalonia. This is the central issue, which goes beyond the national question and puts the issue of popular sovereignty front and centre: it is the people who have the right to decide--such is the basis of democracy—and the law must be at the service of democracy and not vice versa.

On the other hand, there are other solutions and forms of relationship between peoples that go beyond those traditionally imposed in the Spanish State. The strategy of opening constituent processes has as its central idea developing a project for society that is carried out by the working and popular classes, by women, by migrants, by all the people who do not have political and economic power but who are indispensable. But it can also be a method to solve the historical problems of the Spanish State on the national level: a way of re-articulating relations between the peoples on the basis of equality, where the goal--out of respect for the right to decide and its outcomes--is to build  bridges that the current top-down and authoritarian relationship of the central  state destroys, developing from below forms of cooperation and dialogue among the people in order to build an alternative society to that of political and economic elites. An opportunity to build a new framework of fraternal coexistence that allows us to aspire not only to recover but also to conquer new social and democratic rights for the popular classes.

5. We know that ours is a difficult position in a context like this. That is why
it seems to us fundamental to debate, to maintain dialogue among different
democratic positions, but also to oppose the authoritarian regression that the State plans with the excuse of the Catalan question (it could have been any other excuse). Defending the Catalan people who will suffer the brutal
application of article155 not only means defending pro-independence forces, but also standing with that 80% of the Catalan population that  has been demanding a referendum and a democratic solution to its demands and the other 20% that is going to lose its self-government. This is the time to defend the possibility of a democratic solution to the diktats of the State. It is time to (re)start the patient construction of a project that goes beyond the 1978 regime and is capable of building fraternal relations between the different peoples of the Spanish State. The elites have proven incapable of solving the problems of the Spanish State; today more than ever, it is urgent to recover the leading role of politics for those below.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

A new stage opens in the Spanish state’s war on Catalan self-rule

Rajoy reacts to declaration of independence by launching assault on Catalonia’s government, parliament and other institutions

The Spanish government’s war on Catalan autonomy and democracy is now in full offensive mode, following the Catalan parliament’s October 27 decision to proclaim their nation’s independence of the Spanish state.

In the following articles Dick Nichols, Barcelona correspondent of Green Left Weekly, reports on the sequence of events in recent days and (in the second article) provides further background on this important confrontation as it has unfolded since October 1, when a majority of Catalans — resisting massive repression by Spanish police — voted or tried to vote for independence.

I follow these reports with a brief summary of key provisions of the Catalan Declaration of Independence, which is at this point available in an authorized version only in the Catalan language.[1] It will be noted that there are two parts to the resolution of the Catalan parliament, the first explaining why Catalonia has opted to form a sovereign republic and its immediate implementation, and the second outlining plans for a “constituent process” through which a Constituent Assembly will discuss and adopt a constitution for the new republic that will then be submitted for approval in a popular democratic vote.

Whether or how these plans can be carried out will of course depend on how successfully the pro-independence forces can mobilize in the coming weeks and months in sufficient numbers to frustrate Spain’s moves to suppress their democratic aspirations.

It is more important than ever, therefore, for international supporters of Catalan self-determination to organize and mobilize in defense of that nation’s democratic rights. In the Canadian state — where Prime Minister Trudeau has constantly repeated his support for a “united Spain” and opposition to Catalan independence — Quebec activists have initiated the formation of a committee of solidarity with Catalonia.  Québec solidaire, the left pro-independence party, is participating and is also circulating a petition calling on Trudeau to support Catalan self-determination, denounce Madrid’s repression, and recognize the validity of the October 1 referendum result.

– Richard Fidler

* * *


Independence supporters await declaration of independence outside Catalan parliament

Catalonia: Independence declared after Rajoy refuses last-minute deal

By Dick Nichols

Barcelona, Saturday, October 28, 2017, Green Left Weekly

Just after 3pm on October 27, the Catalan parliament voted to ratify the results of the country’s October 1 referendum on self-determination, proclaiming Catalonia “an independent state in the form of a republic”.

In the 135-seat Catalan parliament the vote was 70 in favour — the MPs of the pro-independence coalition Together for the Yes (JxSi) and the anti-capitalist People’s Unity List (CUP) — 10 against — the MPs of the left coalition Catalonia Yes We Can (CSQEP) — and two informal votes.

The other 53 MPs from the unionist parties Citizens, the People’s Party (PP) and the Party of Socialists of Catalonia (PSC), walked out of the chamber in protest at a vote they said violated the Spanish constitution.

Outside parliament the vote was greeted with cheers from the tens of thousands of people who had gathered for this historic moment.

The vote marked the end of a tortuous two-year “process”, which began after the pro-independence parties won a majority of seats (but not votes) at the September 27, 2015 “plebiscitary poll”.

Almost immediately, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, whose government is about to launch a takeover of Catalan government and institutions under section 155 of the Spanish constitution, tweeted: “I ask all Spaniards for calm: the rule of law will soon restore legality in Catalonia.”

The Spanish Senate voted 214 to 47 (with one informal vote) to give the Rajoy government all the powers it needs to sack the Catalan government of Carles Puigdemont, control the Catalan parliament and launch an assault on Catalonia’s institutions.

The berserk road to independence

October 27 was therefore a historic day. But the most amazing, convulsive, day in modern Catalan political history took place the day before.

In the space of eight hours on October 26, Puigdemont shifted his stance in the face of the looming takeover by the central Spanish government from supporting a declaration of Catalan independence to supporting early elections and dropping independence and, finally, to dropping early elections and having the Catalan parliament decide on independence.

Puigdemont’s disorienting shifts came after three days of negotiation and debate within the mass organisations and parties of the Catalan independence movement had finally produced a decision in favour of declaring Catalonia independent.

The establishment Barcelona daily La Vanguardia certainly thought so: on October 26 its gloomy front page headline read: “Radical milieu pushing Puigdemont towards UDI [Unilateral Declaration of Independence]”.

The independence declaration had been on hold since October 10, when Puigdemont recognised the result of the October 1 referendum but suspended its application to call for negotiations with the PP government.

When Rajoy ignored this call and pressed ahead with his war on Catalan self-rule, Puigdemont said the Catalan parliament would consider lifting the suspension. After the PP government’s draconian plans for intervention were detailed on October 21, the declaration of independence seemed a certainty.

The establishments mobilise

However, that conclusion underestimated the huge pressure that the Catalan, Spanish and European political and economic establishments would bring to bear on the Catalan government. The 72 hours between October 23 and October 26 saw a near-panic mobilisation of these powers-that-be.

Nonetheless, their offensive failed for two reasons: the resistance of the Catalan independence movement and the refusal of the PP to drop what it sees as a precious chance to liquidate Catalan self-rule as part of its long-held recentralisation agenda for the Spanish state.

The mounting pressure on the Catalan administration, which included an ongoing campaign to scare companies to register themselves outside Catalonia and stern statements from European Union spokespeople, severely shook up the Puigdemont ministry and the ruling JxSi parliamentary fraction.

At the same time, it had no impact on the CUP that had been insisting that the overwhelming Yes vote be ratified by the proclamation of the Catalan Republic.

The conflict unfolds

Here is how the week unfolded:

October 23, 6pm. There is no indication of the drama to come, as both the government and JxSi parliamentarians agree that the Catalan Republic should be declared on October 27.

October 24, 10am. As the details of the extent of the article 155 intervention start to sink in, discussion opens up in the Catalan cabinet as to whether it is even possible to defend the country’s institutions and whether going to early elections might not be wiser. This discussion spreads to the JxSi parliamentary group.

October 25, 4pm. The JxSi parliamentarians adopt by a large majority the position of “declaring the Republic and resisting with the people” and speakers’ notes are prepared outlining the arguments for use at 100 meetings called by the Catalan National Assembly (ANC) and Catalan culture and language association Omnium Cultural.

However, during the meeting, voices are raised against this “suicidal” course, provoking an all-in debate, the content of which is communicated to Puigdemont.

October 25, 5pm. The position of a minority of JxSi MPs — to shift to an election scenario to preserve Catalonia’s institutions (a position also held by Catalonia Yes We Can) — gets further repeated in the editorials of all the major Catalan dailies, as well as in statements by the economic establishment.

Business minister Santi Vila, who has been publicly reluctant about an independence declaration, puts out feelers to contacts in the Spanish government about the possibility of a negotiated settlement.

October 25, 7pm. At a summit of the independence movement — the government, mass organisations, parties and municipal bodies — the majority view remains that of declaring independence and “resisting with the people”.

However, Puigdemont notes a strong minority current arguing for early elections as a way of stopping an article 155 onslaught. He, too, is concerned about the capacity of the movement to resist, especially if it is divided.

The Catalan crisis is particularly worrying for Basque Premier Inigo Urkullu (Basque Nationalist Party), who fears that a successful attack on Catalan autonomy will encourage the most centralising forces in the PP and Citizens to target Basque institutions next.

Urkullu offers to mediate between the Spanish and Catalan governments: he is supported by other figures with an interest in preventing a 155 intervention, namely various Catalan businesspeople, former Catalan PSC premier Jose Montilla and current PSC leader Miquel Iceta. Their contact person in the PP is Congress speaker Ana Pastor.

These mediators convince Puigdemont that they have enough commitment from the PP for him to call early elections and dissolve parliament.

October 26, 10am. Puigdemont informs his ministers, JxSi MPs and representatives of the two main parties in JxSi — the Catalan European Democratic Party (PDECat) and the Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC) — that he has decided to call early elections and dissolve parliament. All he is waiting for is confirmation that the Rajoy government will call off its 155 intervention and thus avoid “extreme violence”.


Puigdemont’s announcement left the independence camp aghast.

First to comment was CUP MP Carles Riera: “Up until now the Catalan independence movement has had one enemy, the Spanish state. Now it has a second, the Catalan government.”

Next to react were three PDECat MPs, who along with JxSi independent MP Germa Bel, tore up their party cards.

The ERC, while “respecting” Puigdemont’s decision, said it disagreed with it and, after an emergency meeting of its national council, advised that if Puigdemont went ahead with his plan it would leave the government. Both the ERC and the smaller force, Democrats, called on Puigdemont to reverse his decision.

The ANC and Omnium Cultural reaffirmed their commitment to respecting the October 1 result. Sumate, the organisation of Spanish-speaking supporters of independence, tweeted: "We don't accept Catalan elections, you have a mandate from the Catalan people and you must fulfil it.“

At the same time, the square outside the government building began to fill with angry protesters. They were led by the university students who had gone on strike that day in support of the Catalan Republic.

The students were halfway through their march when the news started to spread that Puigdemont wanted to call early elections. The chants of the demonstrations changed effortlessly to "Not a step backwards!", “Those who are in prison don't want elections!" [a reference to imprisoned ANC and Omnium Cultural leaders Jordi Sanchez and Jordi Cuixart], "Betrayal" and "No independence without disobedience".


In the hours after Puigdemont’s announcement, the noise of revolt continued to grow, but it was accompanied by total silence from a Rajoy government that was supposed to commit to suspending 155.

When PP spokespeople were finally heard from, it was to say that “we have to re-establish statutory and constitutional legality with decisions of the Senate” (Javier Arenas, in charge of regional government policy) and “stopping the application of article 155 doesn't depend on the calling of early elections in Catalonia but on a clear renunciation from the Catalan government of independence aspirations.”(Galician premier Alberto Nunez Feijoo).

By 4pm, six hours after Puigdemont had dropped his bombshell, the media were still waiting for him to make a public statement that had originally been scheduled for midday.

Finally, it was clear the PP was not interested in giving any undertaking to Puigdemont and that, in fact, they were gunning for him.

At 5pm, Puigdemont announced that because he had not received any guarantees, the offer of going to early elections was off the table and the decision on whether to respond to the threat of article 155 intervention with an independence declaration was to be taken by parliament.


The main effect of Puigdemont’s offer was to further expose the political motivation of the PP: just as the Rajoy government was not interested in Puigdemont’s previous clarification that no declaration of independence had taken place on October 10, it had no interest in accepting a truce that would have come at great political cost to Puigdemont had it actually gone ahead.

The determination of the Rajoy government to “get” Catalonia saved the unity of the Catalan independence forces.

Now, having voted for independence, those forces must prepare for war.

* * *

Catalonia braces to resist Spanish state war on its self-rule

By Dick Nichols

Links, International Journal of Socialist Renewal

The Spanish People’s Party (PP) government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has decided to impose direct rule on Catalonia under article 155 of the Spanish constitution. This clause allows the central government to take over the powers of a regional government if it “does not carry out its constitutional and legal obligations or acts in a way that seriously damages Spain’s general interest".

Rajoy announced the package enforcing the intervention on Saturday, October 21. The main measures are: sacking Catalan premier Carles Puigdemont, deputy premier and treasurer Oriol Junqueras and all other ministers and having their departments run from Madrid; prohibiting the Catalan parliament from appointing any replacement Catalan premier or adopting any legislation unacceptable to the Spanish government; and holding elections when the Catalan political and social situation has "normalised", in six months at most.

“Normalisation” is to be achieved by establishing central control over the main institutions identified as sustaining the Catalan secessionist threat — the Catalan police force (Mossos d’Esquadra) and the country’s public broadcasting and education systems (for detail see the section subhead “the occupation plan” later in this article).

Rajoy had previously negotiated the full support of the opposition Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) and the new-right party Citizens for his government’s unprecedented stripping of regional powers, the first such intervention since the present Spanish constitution was adopted in 1978. This was despite the fact that as little as one month ago the PSOE had opposed any such intervention.

The most immediate result of Rajoy’s announcement was to turn the October 21 Barcelona demonstration in support of detained Catalan mass movement leaders Jordi Sànchez (Catalan National Assembly) and Jordi Cuixart (Omnium Cultural) into a vast 450,000-strong protest against the Spanish establishment’s assault on Catalan self-rule.

The unionist alliance

Announcement of the in-principle decision to invoke article 155 had come two days earlier, on October 19, and only 30 minutes after the Spanish cabinet had received a reply from premier Puigdemont about whether the Catalan parliament had formally declared independence in its session of October 10. In this answer to the summons he had received under article 155, Puigdemont made clear that the Catalan parliament had not formally declared independence on that day. By then, however, it was too late: the Spanish government had already decided to “end the agony” (the prime minister’s words to the October 11 session of the Spanish parliament).

Under article 155, the premier of a targeted regional administration is given a chance to explain its behaviour and intentions: if the central government finds the answer unsatisfactory it puts together an intervention package for Spanish Senate approval. The Rajoy government will have no problem obtaining that: under Spain’s rigged electoral system the PP, with 30%-35% support, has an absolute majority.

In reality, short of a total surrender declaration the actual content of Puigdemont’s answer wouldn’t have mattered. The Rajoy government, with the backing of the entire Spanish establishment, has been on the war path against the Catalan movement and government since September 6. That was the day the Catalan government showed with the adoption of its referendum legislation that it was determined to give Catalans the chance to decide whether they wanted to remain in the Spanish state.

The defeat the Rajoy government experienced when mass citizen organisation and resistance made sure the October 1 Catalan referendum actually went ahead — despite the presence of 10,000 Spanish police and Civil Guard — only increased Madrid’s determination to act against the “separatist challenge”.

Crush the Catalan movement

The decision to invoke article 155 irrespective of Puigdemont’s reply was immediately denounced by En Comú Podem, the largest Catalan force in the Spanish parliament. Spokesperson Xavier Domènech said:

What is clear is that someone wants to suspend Catalonia’s autonomy by saying that something happened that didn’t happen, and that is absolutely incomprehensible for the majority of the population, to all citizens and is incomprehensible at the level of Europe.

Basque premier Iñigo Urkullu (of the conservative Basque Nationalist Party) had the same reaction:

A Unilateral Declaration of Independence never took place, so in no way at all should the application of article 155 of the constitution go ahead … Let the possibilities of a process of dialogue via a formula agreed by members of both governments be explored, unconditionally and without humiliations.

This will not happen: despite secondary differences the three main Spanish centralist parties are itching to get control of the government apparatus in Catalonia and to organise elections in conditions favouring a loss by the pro-independence forces (including the possibility of their parties being outlawed if they don’t conveniently fall out among themselves).

Thus Miquel Iceta, the secretary of the Party of Catalan Socialists (PSC), justified maintaining the article 155 operation even while noting that Puigdemont had said independence had not been declared. The “problem” for Iceta was Puigdemont’s threat to declare independence if article 155 were applied: that attitude, concluded Iceta, “makes it inevitable that the Spanish government will apply article 155.”

The PSC secretary was careful to avoid drawing too much attention to the 100% support that the PSC’s big brother party, the PSOE, was giving to Rajoy’s operation. Indeed, PSOE secretary Pedro Sánchez was in Brussels last week to clarify the minds of fellow European social democrats who might still have been feeling disoriented by the sight of police bashing grandmothers on October 1. He set them straight:

You may have thought that what is happening in Catalonia is due to a lack of democracy on the part of the Spanish political system. The opposite is the case. We are seeing the material expression of anti-politics, that which is being experienced in other parts of Europe, such as Hungary or Poland. What we are doing is defending European values in a part of our country.

That is, “populism” in Catalonia, where solidarity with refugees has mobilised most massively and where progressive sentiment is probably more widespread than in any other region of Europe, is the equivalent to Hungarian “populism”, which builds fences to keep refugees out. Sánchez’s effort in Brussels was simply another example of the Goebbelsian methods of Spanish nationalism, crusher of basic democratic rights in the name of “Democracy”, the Law” and “the Constitution”.

The occupation plan

After Rajoy had spoken, deputy prime minister Saenz de Santamaria announced more detail about the central takeover. The plan the Spanish government will put to the Senate on October 27 amounts to a comprehensive toolkit for repression of Catalan self-rule, to which further tools can always be added on request to the Senate. Here are the main aspects:

  • Removal of Premier Puigdemont. Once the Senate authorises the dismissal of Puigdemont all his powers, including the power to call early elections, are taken over by the central government. It is not yet clear how exactly the central government will try to exercise its powers — by remote control from Madrid or by imposing a provincial governor and/or cabinet.
  • Sacking of the Catalan cabinet. In addition to the removal of all Catalan ministers, all senior departmental officials (“political appointees”) will also be sacked. In addition, Madrid reserves the right to remove or create any position within the Catalan government.
  • Parliament stripped of its powers. While the Catalan parliament will continue to meet, it will become a shell, with the Senate empowered at bi-monthly control sessions to veto Catalan legislation. Parliament will not be able to propose a new government (because of its pro-independence majority) nor hear no-confidence motions. Parliamentary speaker Carme Forcadell will not need to be sacked because she is facing charges of disobedience in the Supreme Court of Justice of Catalonia (TSJC) and is sure to be found guilty.
  • Early elections. Rajoy said that he would like to see “elections as soon as possible” and within six months at maximum. However, since the PP-dominated Senate can decide to extend the time-frame of the intervention, this amounts to saying to Catalonia: “You’ll get elections if you behave and if we are certain of getting a unionist majority.”
  • Catalan police. The Mossos d’Esquadra will come under the control of the Spanish interior ministry, and its first decision will be to sack police chief Josep Lluís Trapero. If the Catalan police do not obey orders, they will be replaced by Spanish National Police or the Civil Guard.
  • Public broadcasting media. The Spanish government will make changes at the executive level of the public Catalan Corporation of Audio-visual Media (CCMA), including sacking the head of public TV Channel 3. This is to be done in the name of “guaranteeing the transmission of truthful, objective and balanced information, respectful of political, social and cultural pluralism.” Anyone who has had experience of the public media of PP-run administrations (as in Madrid and Valencia) knows what that means.
  • Economy. The goal is to guarantee that no public money is devoted to “activities or goals linked or related to the secessionist process”. This is a catch-all concept that will enable Madrid to cut funding to any business, social, cultural and sporting activity that it finds suspicious and to redirect funding to reliable unionist organisations.
  • Internet. The intervention will seize control of all the Catalan government’s telecommunications and digital services.
  • Loyalty of public servants. Any public servant that refuses to obey an instruction will be charged with “not fulfilling their duty to the Constitution and the Statute”. The consequences could include loss of income and assets.

Economic blackmail

All these measures — which give the lie to all the spin of a “155 lite” that was swirling through the media in the days before the decision — will be backed up by the most important measure of all, severe and persistent economic pressure. Spanish minister for finance Cristóbal Montoro will apply and cut funding so as to meet the central goal of the Madrid authorities and the Spanish establishment: the creation of unionist bloc that can win the next election (which won’t be held until a unionist victory can be practically guaranteed).

The central strategic problem the Madrid government faces is that the majority of the Catalan population (66.5% according to the latest GESOP poll) is opposed to an article 155 intervention against the country’s institutions, a percentage that will only increase as the draconian nature of the operation becomes clearer.

Madrid’s main weapons in the face of this resistance are economic: firstly a combination of organised sabotage of the Catalan economy via pressuring its major companies to shift headquarters out of the country and relentless doom-saying about the fate of an independent Catalan economy (it will shrink by 30% according to Spanish economy minister Luis de Guindos).

However, if the intervention is to gain real ground we can also expect to see a concentrated effort at building clientalist networks that make as many as possible, especially in the poorer areas, dependent on funding from the benefactor Spanish state. This effort to grow the material base of unionism in Catalonia will go with a heightening of the rhetoric against the “secessionist madness” that supposedly put the economy in peril in the first place.

However, the problem with this scenario, which would need time and some basic level of social order to have a chance of working, is its assumption of no or little impact on the Spanish economy once the intervention gets under way. This is a brave assumption given that the level of likely resistance within Catalonia will almost certainly translate into a crisis of Spanish politics and economy, especially given the level of indebtedness of the Spanish public sector (over 100% of GDP) and the economy’s vulnerability to slides in “investor confidence”.

‘The Jordis’

Pedro Sánchez’s talk to his fellow social-democrats in the European parliament may have been responsible for its speakership panel deciding on October 19 not to have a plenary discussion on the worst action to date of the Spanish politico-judicial establishment: the arrest of the presidents of the Catalan National Assembly (Jordi Sànchez) and Catalan language and culture association Omnium Cultural (Jordi Cuixart).

“The Jordis” were detained on October 16 on the order of a judge of the National High Court. Sànchez and Cuixart face charges of ”sedition” for organising a “tumultuous riot” (in truth, peaceful protest) outside the Catalan government’s economics ministry building while the Civil Guard was raiding it on September 20. They could be held for up to four years before facing trial (see here for analysis of the flimsiness of the prosecution case).

Spanish government spokespeople reacted sharply against the description of the Jordis as “political prisoners”, a description that all parties to the left of are the PSOE and all nationalist parties in the Spanish state are already using. According to the PP, PSOE and Citizens, the two leaders are simply suspects awaiting trial, detained by an independent judiciary to prevent them reoffending. However, by October 12, Spain’s national day (and four days before their detention) the rumour heard at King Felipe’s traditional reception and then spread all over the social networks was that the detention of the two had already been decided by presiding magistrate Carmen Lamela.

The aim of the detentions is to disorganise the Spanish state’s most powerful enemy in Catalonia. This is not the Catalan government that, while remaining a critical instrument defending self-rule, has already been weakened by having its finances taken over by the Spanish treasury. Rather, it is the organised mass movement for Catalonia’s national rights whose greatest achievement to date was the organisation and defence of the October 1 referendum: it will be the core of resistance to the intervention under article 155.

Oceanic mobilisation

If the arrest of the Jordis was supposed to demoralise the movement it had the opposite effect. On October 18, 200,000 filled Barcelona’s Diagonal to demand their release, with proportionately large demonstrations in all major Catalan towns. On October 21, 450,000 filled the Catalan capital’s Passeig de Gràcia to support Sànchez and Cuixart and to protest the article 155 intervention announced by Marian Rajoy earlier in the day.

The arrests of the Jordis temporarily moderated the sometimes sharp debate within the pro-independence camp over the October 10 decision of the Puigdemont government to suspend its declaration of independence and call for negotiations with the Spanish state. This move was made not in the hope that the Rajoy administration would change its authoritarian and arrogant ways with regard to Catalonia, but to further expose it to democratic-minded public opinion in the rest of the Spanish state and, in particular, in Europe. The arrests of the mass movement leaders made it clear that there was nothing to be gained from asking for talks from a Spanish government with no interest in having them and every interest in crushing the Catalan movement.

The question for the pro-independence camp and the Puigdemont government then became when and how to lift the October 10 suspension of the independence declaration. The majority opinion — not shared by the People’s Unity List (CUP) which has always favoured an immediate independence declaration — was that the timing and content of a declaration by the Catalan parliament would be determined by the October 21 meeting of the Spanish cabinet that decided the detail of the article 155 intervention.

When Rajoy and Saenz de Santamaria laid this out it immediately became clear that Catalonia was not facing a “155 lite” or a “surgical intervention”, but a frontal onslaught, no doubt reinforced by the support the Spanish government had received at the October 19-20 European Council meeting. (The Spanish establishment, headed by King Felipe, repaid this debt on the evening of October 20, when the presidents of the European Parliament, European Commission and European Council were awarded the Princess of Asturias prize — for advancing social harmony! — at a “glittering ceremony” in the Asturian capital Oviedo.)

What response to 155?

How then to respond to impending invasion from the State? Three broad currents exist within the movement defending Catalan sovereignty, basically differentiated according to the degree of trust they have in Catalan society’s capacity to offer organised resistance to the article 155 attack.

That determines their answer to the three options available to the Catalan government:

(1) Go for Catalan elections now--and maintain the suspension of the October 10 independence declaration — in order to avoid an article 155 intervention and hopefully demonstrate greater support for the pro-independence camp at the polls;

(2) Declare independence now and hopefully spark a trend to recognition by the country’s most sympathetic international allies (beginning, perhaps, with Slovenia);

(3) Hold off on both early elections and an independence declaration in order to constitute a more broadly based government so as to better defend Catalan sovereignty and institutions (possibly by including representatives from Catalunya en Comú and even PSCers opposed to the application of 155).

This discussion takes place when there are no simple majorities among Catalans for any of these three courses. For instance, the latest (October 22) GESOP poll shows a strong majority against the implementation of article 155 (66.5%), but also a majority against regarding the October 1 referendum as binding (60.4%). The only other majority was that in favour of “elections to try to resolve the conflict” (68.6%), but the question asked did not specify a critical point like who should call them.

When those questioned were asked to choose between more realistic options as to what premier Puigdemont should do, the results were: call early elections to avoid the suspension of self-rule (36.5%); declare independence immediately (29.3%); and abandon the independence declaration and negotiate with the State (24.8%).

Within the broad camp of pro-independence and pro-sovereignty forces, there is most agreement on avoiding an early election, especially as it is not at all clear that this would automatically lead to a suspension of Madrid’s article 155 intervention (on October 23, the PP’s Catalonia leader Xavier García Albiol said it wouldn’t, but deputy prime minister Saenz de Santamaria seemed to imply it would). On October 22, Barcelona mayor Ada Colau said:

Elections in the worst conditions, with an intervention into the Catalan government and institutions, would be elections in anomalous conditions for democracy, with a lot of tension and polarisation. I doubt whether elections held in such conditions would help solve anything.

The only tendency within the pro-independence camp that favours an early poll is that fraction of PDeCAT members most exposed to pressure from Catalan enterprise, most notably business minister Santi Vila. This trend is either convinced that Madrid’s assault will easily crush Catalan institutions (including those that support business) and/or is afraid that the more resistance lasts, the more it will come to be dominated by the radical wing of the pro-independence movement.

This is a realistic concern. The broad pattern of struggle since the September 20 police raids is that every weakening of the Catalan governmental and institutional sphere has been offset by strengthened mass movement organising. In the process the forces of resistance have given rise to the Committees to Defend the Referendum (or Republic, CDR) and the peaceful mass resistance platform En Peu de Pau (“On a Peaceful Footing”). At the same time the traditional pro-independence mass organisations ANC and Omnium Cultural have turned to more active organising since the days immediately before the October 1 referendum (when they helped organise the community occupations of polling centres).

In addition, the Democracy Roundtable — covering over 70 business, union, social, cultural and sporting organisations — now occupies the position of “lowest common denominator” of the movement and was important in drawing new layers of the Catalan population to the 450,000-strong Barcelona demonstration on October 21.

According to an October 23 report in the web-based daily el.diario, the PDeCAT forces getting cold feet about making an independence declaration made a last-ditch attempt on that day to persuade Puigdemont not to cross the Rubicon, sending a leadership delegation led by ex-premier Artur Mas to urge the premier to build a defence line including all anti-155 forces, if necessary by keeping independence on hold.

This stance has combined in recent hours with an exponential increase in the pressure on the government to commit to elections. From the Economy Circle [big-business thinktank] to the PSC, passing through the majority of dailies edited in Catalonia, all have called on Puigdemont to dissolve parliament and call elections. It is an option that is on the rise in order to avoid 155 and Rajoy’s taking control of the Catalan institutions.

However, the article also reported that internal PDeCAT polling had showed that only 38% thought early elections a good idea, with 49% against. This reality has produced splits in the conservative nationalist organisation that have reached as high as the Puigdemont cabinet itself, where the pro-elections position of Santi Vila is not only opposed by all non-aligned and Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC) ministers but by other PDeCAT ministers, such as minister of state Jordi Turull and minister for territories Josep Rull.

Position of the CUP

At the opposite pole to the PDeCAT forces supporting an early poll stands the CUP. Convinced that Madrid is completely committed to a scorched-earth policy against Catalonia, the anti-capitalist pro-independence force produced this communiqué on October 23:

The CUP-CC [Constituent Call, organisations that participated alongside the CUP in the 2015 Catalan election] wants to make clear, in this crucial week for the future of Catalonia, that the decision of the Rajoy government — with the support of Citizens, the PSOE and the Borbon king — to eliminate self-government and intervene in the main Catalan institutions including Parliament, is the greatest aggression against the civil, individual and collective rights of the Catalan people since the Franco dictatorship. An aggression aimed against the pro-independence majority, but also against the rest of the citizens not supportive of independence.

An aggression that will find a response in the form of mass civil disobedience by the citizens.

In this sense, we understand that self-organisation, self-defense and resistance on the basis of municipalism and internationalism are the spearheads of this non-violent struggle to turn back the application of article 155 of the Spanish constitution and to achieve freedom for all...

On the other hand, we in the CUP-CC have insisted in every possible way that we do not share the strategy of tailing behind the decisions taken by the Spanish government. We believe that the declaration of the Republic is fully justified by the results of the October 1 referendum and, as we have said on many occasions, we are committed to making the proclamation in parliament as soon as possible.

On this basis, CUP members are presently throwing all their energies into strengthening the “front lines” of the resistance movement — in the unions, neighbourhoods and social organisations.

Position of ‘the commons’

For the Catalan left forces known as “the commons” — embodied in Catalunya en Comú (without Podemos Catalonia) and represented in the Catalan parliament by Catalonia Yes We Can (CSQEP, including Podemos but without Barcelona en Comú) — the priority is to build the broadest possible democratic front of resistance against the intervention. This entails rejecting an independence declaration, thought to narrow the base of resistance to attacks from the Spanish state.

According to an October 22 radio interview with Catalunya en Comú spokesperson Elisenda Alemany, “we have a great responsibility to express this citizen unity with a common front of Catalanist forces, because this intervention is against all democrats.” For Alemany, the basis of the front should be close to that of the Democracy Roundtable: amnesty for the political prisoners, an end to the intervention against Catalan self-government and the re-establishment of full Catalan government autonomy, the end of the financial strangulation being applied by the Spanish treasury and the withdrawal of the security forces brought in to stop the October 1 referendum.

At the same time, the Catalan parliament should open a constituent process: “A constituent process at the beginning and not the end of the way makes it possible for the pro-sovereignty sector, representing 80% of the population, to get involved.”


The position of “the commons” might seem to make sense when the bare numbers in favour of declaring independence are compared to those opposed to this course. However, the approach may well fail to properly weigh a key reality: the most active, committed and organised part of the Catalan population is that which is committed to independence, which suffered to make the referendum happen and has already had to wear the October 10 suspension of their most cherished aspiration).

Puigdemont already made it clear in his last reply to Rajoy that if article 155 is triggered, the Catalan parliament will confront the issue of lifting the suspension of the independence declaration: the ERC, CUP and a majority of PDeCAT support that course of action. How then to keep supporters of Catalan self-rule who are not for independence on side for the struggle against Spanish state attacks?

Journalist and commentator Esther Vivas suggested an orientation in this October 23 comment in the Catalan daily Ara:

The next step of the Catalan government must be to proclaim the Catalan Republic. [At the same time] a constituent process must be opened to maintain the unity of the pro-independence and pro-democracy front that mobilised on October 1. This is a broad political framework that goes beyond the basis of the usual pro-independence forces to include Podemos Catalonia, the social base of the commons and activists from anarchism.

It also gives us a perspective for confronting the application of 155 that isn’t just anti-repression but also strategic and political. When the government announced the referendum it committed to implementing the result. That’s why if we want to be recognised as a republic we have to proclaim ourselves as such.

That doesn’t mean implementing the republic tomorrow: it will imply a series of measures the possibility of whose implementation will have to be seen. Now more than ever the dynamic between the street and the institutions becomes fundamental. Also key will be a sustained mobilisation to confront the repression of the State.

Such are the pressures on Catalan premier Carles Puigdemont as he prepares to make the most fateful decision in Catalan history since his processor Lluís Companys declared “the Catalan state in the Spanish Republic” on October 6 83 years ago.

The Rajoy government will be hoping for a 21st century replay of that episode, which ended with the imprisonment of Companys and his cabinet after a brief skirmish between the Catalan police and the Spanish army. For its part the movement for Catalan sovereignty will be fighting to make the activation of article 155 the starting point of the Spanish establishment’s Vietnam.

Dick Nichols is Green Left Weekly’s European correspondent, based in Barcelona. An initial version of this article has appeared on its web site. For up-to-the-minute information on the Catalan struggle go to Green Left’s live blog.

* * *

A note on the Declaration of Independence adopted October 27 by the Catalan parliament

The Declaration begins by reciting the full text of a resolution adopted October 10 by the parliamentary representatives of the pro-independence parties. The resolution recalls the repeated and frustrated attempts by Catalonia since the adoption of the post-Franco Spanish constitution of 1978 to expand the very limited administrative autonomy it grants into political recognition as a nation within the Spanish state.

Faced with hostile rulings by the Constitutional Court and the rejection of negotiations by the central government in Madrid, the Catalan government had called the referendum on self-determination held October 1 of this year. Pursuant to its result, the parliamentary deputies had determined to constitute the Catalan republic as an independent and sovereign state subject to the rule of law and to initiate a “democratic, citizen-based, transversal, participative and binding constituent process.”

The resolution ends by affirming the desire to open negotiations with the Spanish state, without pre-conditions, aimed at establishing “a regime of collaboration to the benefit of both parties.” It asks “the international community and the authorities of the European Union to intervene to stop the violation of the civil and political rights that is under way, and to witness the negotiating process with the Spanish state.”

It expresses the “unequivocal desire to join the international committee as quickly as possible,” the new state undertaking to comply with the international obligations currently applicable in its territory and continuing to “adhere to the international treaties to which the Kingdom of Spain is subject.”

And it calls on international governments and organizations “to recognize the Catalan Republic as an independent and sovereign state.”

The Declaration then expresses the Catalan parliament’s rejection of the decision of the Spanish cabinet and Senate to apply article 155 of the Spanish constitution, which “amounts to the elimination of Catalan self-government.” This, it says, is “an attack on democracy without precedent in the last 40 years.”

The Declaration then sets out a series of measures proposed to implement independence. These include establishing a procedure for acquiring Catalan nationality, a proposal for dual nationality with the Kingdom of Spain, and the adoption of laws governing the transition to independence. The existing institutions and many of the existing laws and structures of the Catalonian autonomy will be retained. A public development bank will be established, as well as a new central bank, the Bank of Catalonia, to regulate the financial system.

An inventory of Spanish state property will be compiled and will be included in the negotiations with the Spanish state, as will a proposal for division of assets and liabilities between the two states.

Finally, the Parliament will open an investigation to determine the responsibilities of the government of the Spanish state and its institutions in offenses against fundamental individual and collective rights committed in the effort to frustrate the people’s right to vote on October 1.

The second part of the Declaration, on “the constituent process,” calls on the Catalan government to establish a Constituent Assembly that will collect the proposals systematized in a Constituent Social Forum and submit them to a citizens’ consultation that will establish a binding mandate on the Parliament constituted as a Constituent Assembly resulting from constituent elections.

Readers will note that the declaration of the Republic by the Catalan parliament, together with the commitment to set in motion a process to define the constitution of the new Republic, is very similar to what Catalan socialist Esther Vivas was proposing in the concluding paragraphs of Dick Nichols’ second article, above.

A new stage in the struggle has begun in which the mobilized masses of Catalonia will be engaging in confrontations with the Spanish state and its repressive forces ranging from street demonstrations to mass civil disobedience. These developments, and the intense public debates they will promote, can help to arm the independence forces with a social agenda aimed not only against state repression and capitalist austerity but for a participatory and democratic movement that can point the way toward “another Catalonia” of social justice and equality. Their example can help educate and inspire working people and democratically inclined people in Spain and internationally with the progressive content and potential of the independentist process. (R.F.)

[1] A Scottish blogger has already made a provisional translation, available here.

Friday, October 13, 2017

As Trudeau visits their country, Mexicans denounce Canadian mega-mining projects

Mexican Network of Mining Affected People Tries to Extract a Response from Trudeau

As Prime Minister Trudeau makes his first official visit to Mexico, writes Mining Watch Canada, “the Mexican Network of Mining Affected People (REMA by its initials in Spanish) has issued a communiqué to call on Trudeau to live up to his commitments and stop the devastation of Indigenous and campesino communities that has enabled Canadian mining companies to make big profits.

“Canadian investment in Mexico — the principal destination abroad for Canadian mining investment after the U.S. — is expanding precisely in the most deadly places for anyone to get by on a daily basis, let alone speak out in defence of their land and wellbeing. As the future of the North American Free Trade Agreement is uncertain and Trudeau seeks to shore up a bilateral relationship with Mexico, it’s time to put words into action and answer for lives and livelihoods destroyed or at risk around Canadian mine sites.”

The text of the original communiqué follows. Translation by Mining Watch Canada. Like Mining Watch, I have omitted the footnotes indicated in square brackets in the text. These can be found in the original text.

Richard Fidler

Mexican indigenous at mining project

Canadian mining is dispossessing Indigenous peoples and campesino communities in Mexico

On the occasion of Justin Trudeau’s state visit to Mexico, the Mexican Network of Mining Affected People urges Canadian mining company invasion of Mexico to stop and withdraw

October 11, 2017

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has presented himself on the international stage as a democrat, a supporter of human rights and freedoms, and committed to fulfilling the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.[1] Although on this latter point it is important to mention that the government has taken a weak position, limiting its support for the declaration within the scope of the Canadian constitution, [1] which is not minor, particularly if Canada continues to refuse to ratify Convention 169 of the International Labour Organization[2] and fails to respect the self-determination of Indigenous peoples in practice.

Trudeau’s visit to our country has been announced as an opportunity to strengthen commercial ties between Mexico and Canada, which is bad news for those peoples and communities who have been seriously affected by Canadian mining activities. Today, Canada has become the biggest source of foreign investment in mining around the world and in Mexico, to such an extent that 65% of foreign mining companies in Mexico are listed in Canada. For Canada, Mexico has become the second most important destination for Canadian mining investment abroad, after the U.S., such that 11.3% of Canadian mining assets are in Mexico.

The power that Canadian mining wields in Latin America has been openly and arbitrarily promoted by Canada’s entire diplomatic corp along the lines of its “economic diplomacy” policy through its embassies. Like good colonialists, they continue to propagate racism and hatred toward Indigenous peoples and campesino communities when they encourage mining investment in an area such as Guerrero [2] — where there is tremendous Canadian mining investment — and then issue alerts to Canadian tourists to avoid traveling to the same place, [3] given the violence and risks that people live with there.

The political and financial weight of Canadian mining companies and the government is a reality that has been used to influence the promotion of constitutional reforms, laws and regulations in the extractive sector to help facilitate foreign investment, as well as to weaken and deny redress for harms, tax payments, or any other condition that might affect company profits.

In Mexico, this has led to an unconstitutional legal framework that violates human rights because, among other things, it gives mining priority above all over activities, which despite being undertaken pretty much exclusively by private companies is also considered in the public interest. This has meant dispossession and forced displacement of legitimate landowners, who when they try to defend their rights, these are denied by the very same companies or through the structures of illegal armed groups or in collusion with diverse actors in the Mexican government.

Health harms, environmental contamination and destruction, criminalization of social protest, threats, harassment, smear campaigns, surveillance, arbitrary detentions and the assassination of defenders are the formula for progress and development that Canadian mining investment has brought to our country. To counteract its brutality, in the media and among the spheres of power, companies gloat about their corporate social responsibility, clean industry certification or safe cyanide use, or their adherence to absurd standards of “conflict free gold” that are supported and certified by organizations largely created by the very same corporate sector.

To substantiate claims of dispossession, pillage, displacement and violence caused by Canadian mining companies, it is enough to visit the communities of Carrizalillo [4] and Nuevo Balsas [5] in Guerrero, Chalchihuites [6] and Mazapil [7] in Zacatecas, the northern highlands of Puebla, [8] Tetlama in Morelos, [9] or Sierrita de Galeana in Durango, [10] as well as Chicomuselo, Chiapas, [11] where Mariano Abarca was murdered for his opposition to a Canadian mining company, prior to which the Canadian embassy in Mexico was alerted to the risks he faced as they monitored the conflict.

The abuses of Canadian mining companies have been ongoing, repeated, and have violated human rights such as rights to territory, property, a safe environment, participation, consultation and consent, lawfulness and legal security. For example, we have seen the same company (Goldcorp) break the law repeatedly by purchasing collectively owned lands, first in Carrizalillo, Guerrero and then, three years later, in Mazapil, Zacatecas. Today in Mexico, Canadian companies are operating 65% or over 850 mining projects at different stages from exploration through to construction and extraction.

It is important to mention, Mr. Justin Trudeau, that the only thing that mining investment from your country has ensured for us is dispossession and the risk that thousands and thousands of communities and persons could lose their culture and identity as a result of destruction of their territory; the arrival of organized crime (whether or not companies are signed up to the bombastic conflict-free gold standard); as well as the escalation of violence, repression and criminalization of those who defend their territories and life.

In this context, REMA calls on the Canadian government to stop institutional and political support provided through your diplomatic apparatus to enable private Canadian companies to accumulate profits through dispossession. We also demand that you stop promoting policies and weak laws that legalize the activities of these mining companies, among them voluntary codes of conduct known as Corporate Social Responsibility, in place of mandatory compliance. Instead, corporate accountability is urgently needed to put a stop to the ongoing atrocities and illegalities that violate the human rights of Indigenous peoples and campesino communities.

In addition, beyond the positive accounts of the business sectors and government officials in defence of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), it is important to mention that this pact has only helped to legalize dispossession, enabling more wealth to be accumulated by already wealthy sectors, as well as the gradual displacement of both products and local economies to stimulate a new form of accumulation and control, an increase in the deregulation of land ownership and dilution of protections over the public interest and public good, further enabling private pillage. In sum, the principal objective of NAFTA has been to disappear the countryside and campesino farmers.

Finally, Mr. Trudeau, we would like to remind you that well over a year ago, on April 26, 2016, various organizations including ours sent you a letter [12] in which we requested you to kindly bring your attention to the context of human rights violations of Canadian companies in Mexico and Latin America, just shortly after you had assumed your mandate as Prime Minister when you committed yourself and your party to support human rights. To date, we have never received a response to this letter, nor seen any concrete actions to better protect human rights.

Canadian mining investment is destroying our country

Canadian mining companies violate human rights

We will fight for territories free of mining!

Mexican Network of Mining Affected People (REMA)

Postscript: Canada’s role in promoting and defending its mining activities in Mexico, in violation of indigenous interests and rights, has not gone unnoticed in that country’s media. See, for example, this article in the Mexican daily La Jornada, October 13: “Justin Trudeau en México: frivolidad y decepción.”

The author concludes: “Sadly, after two years in power Justin Trudeau maintains a complicit inaction regarding the death and destruction provoked by Canadian mining companies, consistently aided in this plunder by the help they receive from a legion of corrupt specialists in the sale of our biocultural patrimony. Faced with this, the road to follow has been traced by many peoples in Mexico who have organized to declare their territories free of megaprojects of death, including mega-mining. We should expect nothing from Justin Trudeau other than huge disappointment.” (R.F.)

[1] See in particular Articles 10, 28 and 32, which require the “free, prior and informed consent” of the indigenous peoples concerned by projects impinging on their lands, territories and resources. The Supreme Court of Canada has ignored this requirement in some recent rulings.

[2] Also known as the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, 1989.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

The fight for independence in Catalonia: What lessons for Quebec?

Catalonia photo - grandchildren of grandparents

‘We are the grandchildren of the grandparents you bashed' October 3 demonstration outside the Spanish National Police headquarters in Barcelona


Following the October 1 referendum in Catalonia — held in the face of massive repression resulting in hundreds of injured — the people shut down production and massed in cities and towns across the autonomous state on October 3 to protest the Spanish government’s attempt to deny them the elementary democratic right to vote on their constitutional and political future.

The political crisis is continuing to deepen. The Spanish Constitutional Court, at the request of the Catalan social-democratic party, has ordered the suspension of the Catalan parliament scheduled for October 9 to implement the result of the referendum, which under the Catalan legislation would be a declaration of independence. In response, the Catalan National Assembly has called for the “biggest possible mobilization” outside the Catalan parliament on October 9.

Some leaders of the independence movement have been charged by the federal court with “sedition,” as has the head of the Catalan police (the Mossos d’Esquadra) who is accused of “passivity” in the face of a September 20 demonstration.

The events in Catalonia have naturally attracted much interest in Quebec, and some dozens of Québécois have made their way to Barcelona and environs in recent days. They include leaders of the pro-sovereignty parties in Quebec, among them Manon Massé, a spokesperson for the left independentist party Québec solidaire.

In an exceptional gesture, the Quebec National Assembly voted unanimously (113 to 0) on October 4 to “deplore the authoritarian attitude of the Spanish government, which has led to acts of violence during the referendum on the independence of Catalonia,” adding that it “deplores the number of injured.” The Assembly called for “political and democratic dialogue between Catalonia and Spain in order to resolve peacefully and in a consensual way the differences that separate them, in respect of democracy and law, and with international mediation if the parties so consent, to lead the parties to a negotiated solution.”

The motion was presented by Parti québécois leader Jean-François Lisée on behalf of Premier Philippe Couillard and the other party leaders, including Manon Massé of QS, who had just returned from Barcelona. The resolution was a clear departure from the refusal of Couillard up to then (and even today by the Trudeau government) to criticize the Spanish government for its handling of the Catalonian crisis.

The motion, along with considerable critical commentary in the media, is no doubt just the beginning of public discussion in Quebec over what the events in Catalonia mean for Quebec, and especially the independence movement.

The following is an initial contribution by André Frappier, an editor of Presse-toi à gauche and Canadian Dimension. A former president of the Montréal postal workers union (CUPW), he is also a member of the National Coordination Committee of Québec solidaire, although he writes here in a personal capacity. André informs me that he will be in Catalonia during the next week to observe firsthand the important events. I have translated this from Presse-toi à gauche.

Richard Fidler

Rajoy, el gran saductor

Rajoy, the Great Seducer: 'Don't go, Catalans! Where are you going to be better off than with us? We love you!'

* * *

The struggle for independence in Catalonia: What lessons for Quebec?

By André Frappier

October 3, 2017

The struggle of the Catalan people for their right to self-determination and ultimately for their independence is certainly not commensurate with the struggles Quebec has experienced in its recent past, if we consider the history of the 1980 and 1995 referendums. Spain’s history and constitution, its Francoist legacy, in a context of a European Union that is managing the anti-popular austerity offensive, tend to give a form overtly more inflexible to the Spanish government’s reaction in opposition to the Catalan nation. But while that struggle is unfolding in a different context, it is important to examine the situation and to draw some lessons for the struggle that we are carrying on in Quebec.

Revisiting the past: differences and similarities with Catalonia

In the 1995 referendum, the Canadian government chose to bet on its defeat and had allied with the NO forces in Quebec, as it had done in 1980. In doing so, however, it did grant some validity to Quebec’s referendum exercise, which represented a certain risk. As it happened, the NO obtained only 50.58% of the votes in 1995, a significant decline in comparison with the 1980 referendum when it had obtained 59.56%.

The Liberal government headed by Jean Chrétien had spared nothing, however. This battle had to be won at any cost. So it breached the funding rules imposed by Quebec legislation on the contending sides by diverting no less than $332 million from Canadian government coffers toward some Quebec advertising agencies — what became known as the sponsorship scandal. Not to mention the organization of the love-in of the federalists who came to demonstrate their “love for Quebec.” The cost of that demonstration was assessed at close to $4.3 million, it too contravening Quebec’s referendum law which limited the respective camps to spending $5 million to promote their ideas during the campaign. Among the thousands of persons who besieged downtown Montréal there were New Brunswickers arriving in buses chartered by Irving Oil, students coming from Vancouver thanks to a 90% discount of Air Canada, and employees of the municipality of Ottawa-Carleton who had been given a paid day off.

The Liberal government therefore had to draw some lessons from this risqué adventure in which it had lost a lot of credibility and the Yes side had lost by very little. In 1997 Stéphane Dion was given the mandate by the Chrétien government to take over this question and to determine the action to be taken should another referendum end up winning. He went first to the Supreme Court and then tabled a bill on referendum Clarity that was adopted in June 2000.

This new law states in its “whereases” that the Supreme Court of Canada has held that neither the Quebec National Assembly nor the government of Quebec has the right , either in international law or under the Constitution of Canada, to proceed unilaterally to the secession of Quebec from Canada.

This law decrees that the people of Quebec do not have the right to take the decision to separate on their own. The Quebec government would have the duty to negotiate. But even then only if the federal government recognized the validity of the vote. The terms of negotiation, and the conditions in which it would be exercised, are therefore established by the federal government, which becomes judge and party.

That considerably altered the situation and strengthened the federal state, which has now armed itself with safeguards against independence. As the Gomery commission demonstrated, the chances were already unequal when confronted by cheaters. And we now know that the fight for sovereignty will necessitate a large and favourable relationship of forces. In that respect, we already share somewhat the Catalan situation.

Finally, let us remember that the Canadian constitution, repatriated [from Britain] in 1982, has never received the necessary consensus since Quebec has never accepted it.

Will the Canadian state confront Quebec independence in a way that differs from that of the Spanish state today?

This is by no means certain. Geographically, Quebec is not located at the periphery of the Canadian state. Quebec’s secession would cut Canada in two, isolating the Maritime provinces from Ontario and the western provinces. It would also constitute an enclave in regard to Seaway transportation, which must pass through Quebec on its way inland and outbound. Quebec would now be entitled to decide what can cross its territory, and if it wishes to prohibit any form of pipeline. It would also have full control over rail and highway transportation.

That is enough to represent a major threat, especially for a state that runs on the extraction and export of petroleum, with Quebec as a decisive route. But would the people of a Quebec that has become independent choose that avenue? Judging by the sustained mobilization in the different regions of Quebec for protection of our environment, including the some 230 municipalities that support the struggle in Ristigouche and have adopted similar protective by-laws, and given the awareness of the need for an energy transition toward sustainable sources it is almost unthinkable that a struggle for Quebec sovereignty would not entail a struggle over the appropriation and control of our environment. What is the use of independence if it not to free ourselves as well from our dependency on the multinational corporations?

Impact of mobilization

The other aspect is political. Independence, it is clear, cannot be achieved in a cold way. It will be the culmination of a struggle that is both social and parliamentary, the construction of a relationship of force to flush out the profiteers and the corrupt who hoard our collective resources and monopolize the profits. It will be the culmination of building a force that can accomplish our sovereign choice of society through the constituent assembly. The working class in the rest of Canada will be able to see in this a hope that will revitalize its own struggles, provided that it escapes the subjection to its own bourgeoisie and therefore Canadian nationalism.

And that is the other major threat for the Canadian federal state. The possibility of a truncated state, with a Quebec in ferment, will of course represent a much more dangerous situation for the Canadian ruling class. The support of the working class in the rest of Canada will then be a decisive element, as it now is in Spain for the Catalan people.

[Thanks to Dick Nichols, Barcelona correspondent of Green Left Weekly, for photo and cartoon. Dick is reporting daily on the events.]

Monday, October 2, 2017

Catalonia: After YES victory unions, social movements call general strike

In face of massive police repression, majority vote to found an independent republic

Voters form barrier to prevent police entry to polling station. Photo by La Vanguardia.

Despite brutal attacks from police of Madrid’s Guardia Civil, millions of Catalans defied a ban by Spain’s central government and its courts and made their way to polling stations — many improvised in schools, arenas, hospitals and other public facilities — to vote in the October 1 independence referendum. Some 90% of the 2.2 million who managed to circumvent police barriers answered “yes” to the question “Do you want Catalonia to become an independent state in the form of a republic?” Only 7.87% voted No, while blank and null votes accounted for the remainder.

It was an impressive result in the circumstances. Although only 43% of the total electorate of 5.2 million were able or willing to vote, another 777,000 voters were blocked by police from casting ballots; about 400 polling stations out of 2300 had been shut down. It thus appears that a clear majority, on a clear question, voted or wanted to vote for independence.

Announcing the result, Catalan government president Carles Puigdemont pledged to declare an independent republic within 48 hours after the official vote count is released, later this week, in accordance with the referendum law adopted September 6 by Catalonia’s national assembly.

Meanwhile, a broad coalition of trade unions and political and social movements has called a “general and social strike” for Tuesday, October 3, against repression and in defense of freedom.[1] Their statement denounces “the repression and infringement of rights and civil, sexual and political freedoms, both individual and collective, that is being generated in Catalonia in the form of a veiled state of exception.” It goes on to denounce “the pressures and threats that the whole of the working and popular classes have suffered in these recent weeks as well as the constant attacks on freedom of speech and the continuous attempts to frighten the whole of the Catalan population.

“We want to make clear that in the face of the austerity policies that have destabilized our lives in recent years and have dismantled the public sector with a bank rescue plan, there is a need for us to organize and to advocate a charter of social rights that incorporates all of the experiences, practices and knowledges accumulated by the different social movements during all those years, from the social and solidarity economy to the movement for food sovereignty, from the defense of the territory to the feminist struggles and in opposition to male violence against women, from the movements for peace to the recognition of the rights of migrants.”

Published below is a perceptive explanation of how the referendum can detonate an institutional crisis across the Spanish state as a whole, while drawing attention to some lessons that mutatis mutandis are applicable to Québec solidaire and the left in Canada in relation to our national question. The author is a Barcelona-based author and activist on the editorial board of Viento Sur, where this article was first published. It was translated by Todd Chretien for

– Richard Fidler

* * *

Decisive days in Catalonia

By Josep María Antentas

1. After five years of eternal process in which the grandiloquence of the key actors was proportional to the extraordinary sluggishness of events and the parties’ consistent desire to avoid a decisive clash with the Spanish state, we have finally arrived at the moment of truth. It’s not the final scene of the film, but it is a critical passage in determining the ending.

“The process ends, now the Mambo [1] begins,” as the far-left, pro-independence Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP) succinctly summarized the changing situation. A mambo, don’t forget, might have started back in in 2014 if the Catalan government of Artur Mas of the ruling Democratic Convergence of Catalonia [now known as the Catalan European Democratic Party, PDeCAT] had not retreated in November of that year when it abandoned the attempt to conduct an independence referendum (a “consultation” in the language of the time) after it was prohibited by the Spanish Constitutional Court. A mistake that, surprisingly enough, met with hardly any resistance on the part of the other actors in the process (with the initial exception of the Republican Left of Catalonia, ERC), none of whom drew up a public balance sheet nor explained the reasons behind the ongoing rodeo over the last three years.

2. The Catalan parliament’s September 6 approval of the Referendum Act marked a point of no return. Since then, officially speaking, Catalonia has entered into a situation of double legitimacy — a duality of legitimacies (and legalities) on a collision course that, naturally, can only exist temporarily until it is settled in favor of one or the other. The scenario presents an asymmetric, unstable and unequal institutional double power (that is, the power of Spanish state institutions and those of the Catalan state, which have placed themselves outside of their own legality).

It’s important to keep in mind just how “asymmetric, unstable, and unequal” this relation is to accurately understand the conjuncture and to avoid the mistake of seeing this as a confrontation between equivalent or similar powers. There is, in fact, a tremendous inequality between the two. “Between equal rights force decides,” as Marx wrote in chapter VIII of the first volume of Capital when talking about the fight over the length of the workday between workers and employers.

Forgetting this factor can lead to naïve or illusory visions about the nature of the State — not about the Spanish state specifically, but also about the modern capitalist state in general. At the same time, we must remember that “force” cannot be separated from the legitimacy of the power that uses it, nor from the political context in which it operates. Legitimacy and context determine the degree to which said power can deploy force. And neither of these are fixed variables, rather they change along with events. Brute force and political force, therefore, in the broadest sense of the terms, permanently intermingle.

3. Any movement must be able to assess the world and changing situations in terms that are favorable to its interests while communicating confidence in its capacity to win as well as the belief that its objectives are attainable. In the independence movement’s narrative, the term “disconnection” has been used regularly in order to visualize the unilateral materialization of independence. The concept carries a pleasantly agreeable tone, free from stridency and tensions, softening any feeling of conflict or insecurity. In this sense, it has definitely played an important role in making the independence movement’s strategic horizon appear credible. But it has come at the cost of enormously simplifying the complexity of the project’s analysis and of how confronting the state is understood.

The idea of disconnection brings to mind the painless turning off of an electric circuit. There is a well-known scene in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: a Space Odyssey that clearly illustrates how to disconnect (oneself) from a superior power. This takes place in the part of the film “Mission to Jupiter,” when the Discovery approaches the great gaseous planet. After checking for anomalies in the HAL 9000, the supercomputer in control of the ship, astronauts Dave Bowman and Frank Poole plan to disconnect from it. After Poole dies as a result of HAL’s action, Bowman gains access to the room where HAL’s central circuits are locked up, gradually deactivating the computer, leading it to gradually lose consciousness. The machine regresses to infancy and ends up, before shutting down, singing a children’s song “Daisy Bell.” The great Leviathan who controlled the ship, a humanized super-computer, dies. [2]

Contrary to this image, in reality, it is not possible to disconnect from a state. Neither is it possible to break with a state without a confrontation. Thus, paradoxically, the idea of disconnection, although very different, recalls Antonio Negri’s theory of the exodus that has been in vogue over the two previous decades. In this case, not advocating an exodus in the sense of creating liberated non-state spaces, but rather in the sense of creating another state.

However, no such agreeable disconnection from a state exists against its will. Leaving cases involving a military clash aside, there are examples of ruptures with states that come as a result of intense tug-of-wars and mass political-social confrontations that, intermingled with international geopolitics, may force a state to accept a democratic denouement of a contest contrary to its interests. But all this has very little to do with the strategic imaginary with which the independence movement has been played out up until now.

Hence, the capital importance of what happens in the coming days. The most important thing is for the Catalan government and its allies to continue forward until the last breath. And, crucially, popular mobilizations must push their way onto the scene, nourished by a torrent of ordinary people.

4. The movement for independence has been defined by its imposing mass size and staying power. Since 2012, under the direction of the Catalan National Assembly (ANC), each September 11 — Catalonia’s traditional nationalist day — has expressed this support through methodically planned demonstrations, even if these are typically followed by very little movement street presence until that date on the following year. Behind every S11, there is real organization from below, in each town and neighborhood, although absolutely dependent on the political leadership of the ANC itself (and to a lesser extent the Òmnium, a Barcelona-based Catalan cultural association).

Over the last five years, the movement has demonstrated very little spontaneous capacity from below or the ability to overflow its own leading organizations, negatively impacting the movement at various junctures. The absence of any pressure beyond that officially directed by the ANC in the weeks prior to the N9 consultation in 2014 — either to prevent the Spanish state’s actions or the Catalan government’s retreat — is the clearest example.

The events of September 20, when ordinary people flooded into the streets in the face of the sudden intensification of Spanish state repression, mark a drastic change of pace and logic. The movement has taken on a relatively sharper, vital, and electrifying dynamic, more focused on sustained mobilization. A new phase has begun in sync with an intelligent, strategic emphasis on nonviolence that has characterized it from the beginning.

The ANC and Òmnium are playing a leading role in what has taken place over the last week, but their style is more conducive to a contained mobilization rather than popular actions from below spilling over from below and this approach may continue to impact the movement at critical instants. The great challenge over the next days is as follows: exactly how to combine the leadership of these two organizations — which no one questions — with the need for the explosive spontaneity characteristic of the M15 movement.

We cannot yet assess the scope of the response that started on September 20. Clearly, it has changed the tone of the political environment. But it still may tend toward stabilization, or be the initiator of general outbreak prior to October 1, or on the day of the referendum itself, if the Spanish State pursues further repressive actions.

5. At this key conjuncture, the basic limits of the whole independence process are clearly emerging; that is, the delinking of the proposal for a Catalan state from a concrete plan for social mobilization and democratic regeneration. In other words, the disassociation with the legacy, the meaning and the agenda of the anti-austerity Indignados movement that erupted on May 15, 2011 (M15) when millions occupied city and town squares across the territory of the Spanish state.

Both movements have galvanized and represent distinct parts of the Catalan people. The people of the squares in 2011 are not the same as the people of the independence process, even if there are important crossovers that we must not forget. To do so would be to read reality too mechanically. In Catalonia, part of the middle classes and the precarious youth gravitated towards M15 and toward the political options that were born from it (Podem, the Catalan expression of the Podemos party and the radical Catalunya en Comù party, neither of which have consistently advocated independence, even if they supported Catalonia’s right to self-determination). Another part moved more sharply toward the independence movement (in its diverse variants). And there are, no doubt, others that are swinging between both poles, providing a weak connection between the bifurcated futures enshrined in the independence movement and the legacy of M15.

However, M15, beyond both the precarious student/youth component and the critical role of the middle classes buffeted by the economic crisis, also contained a mass, neighborhood component, featuring popular and working-class participation during an epoch when the trade union movement as such was decomposing. These last features are, critically, absent in the independence movement and represent its Achilles’ heel.

Thus, the movement suffers from the lack of an anchoring social sector both quantitatively and qualitatively, both numerically and strategically. And, it goes without saying, it has been the main source of controversies and headaches for each member of the Catalan left, whether or not they define themselves in such terms, and whether or not they are participating in the independence process or stand outside it. We must not minimize this problem nor pretend that it does not exist, as the left wing of the independence forces have tended to do. Nor should it be used as a pretext to remain outside this new movement that emerged in 2012 and thereby end up making its weaknesses worse, as Catalunya en Comú and those it influences have done.

In this sense, various initiatives carried out by sectors of the trade union movement, in conjunction with social justice activists, are particularly important, including: the Barcelona dockworkers’ decision to refuse to service ships carrying Guardia Civil deployed from other parts of the Spanish state and the announcement of a call for an October 3 general strike (however propagandistic it may be) by several smaller unions.

6. Born formally in March 2012, the Catalan National Assembly (ANC) provided a strategic road map toward independence based on the construction of a transversal and plural movement articulated exclusively around the goal of independence. This pure and simple independence had an undeniable attractive power, although it was in itself a key strategic limit for the new movement, both from the point of view of its stated objective (independence) and from the point of view of opening doors to social and democratic change (an objective formally shared by many of the movement’s members).

Retrospectively, without falling into the nostalgia of what could have been but was not to be, it is enough to ask ourselves how things might have turned out if the movement had paired the slogan of independence in 2012 with a program of social mobilization and basic democratic regeneration. The answer is clear: the Catalan right and Artur Mas’ government would have felt even more uncomfortable with the independence tsunami, yet they still could not have detached themselves from it while independence process advocates would have expanded their base by attracting popular and working class supporters. If this path had been taken, traditional leftist political organizations (as well as new ones that arose after 2014) and the unions would have faced difficulties remaining indifferent. [3]

Obsessively preoccupied with not alienating the Catalan right, independence movement organizers did not pay enough attention to the strategic necessity of ensuring participation by forces on the political and social movement left that were not already in favor of independence. This criticism notwithstanding, rather than using the limits of the dynamics opened in 2012 as a justification for a passive policy, it was more strategically sound to engage with these limits as a stimulus to actively interact with it while working to reduce the right’s influence within the movement.

Furthermore, such a passive wait-and-see policy neglected another decisive question: the moment of intensification of the confrontation between the State and independence forces, such as the one we are living through today. This clash represents a key conjuncture in which we must try to shift the correlation of forces to the left, we must fight in such a way that the most combative sectors become protagonists in a scenario in where the forces of order within the independence movement lose out to those that favor a rupture, with the anti-capitalist Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP) at the head.

7. Two things are at stake on O-1: the exercise of the legitimate right to self-determination of the Catalan people and the future of the 1978 post-Franco regime. We face two battles in one, which interact and feed off their own autonomy. They cannot simply be dissolved into each other or merged, but neither can they be completely separated in strategic terms.

This is where the interests of the independence movement and political forces throughout the Spanish state (and their Catalan allies) that favor a constitutional rupture with the regime of 1978 can partially converge. Since 2012, Catalan independence has not given sufficient importance to the search for allies across the whole Spanish state, but increasing repression has acted to change this attitude, even if it has been too-long delayed.

Genuine instances of solidarity from outside Catalonia are highly regarded and appreciated, although their strategic potential has been acknowledged too late and is still not well-integrated into the movement’s overall policy. On the other hand, state-wide initiatives such as the ones Unidos Podemos and Catalunya en Comú are promoting — such as the meeting of public officials last Sunday, September 23 in Zaragoza — have the merit of clearly denouncing repression and the de facto Spanish state coup d’état playing out in Catalonia.

Such initiatives’ insistence on coming to an agreement with the state on how to hold a referendum serves to defend the legitimacy of the right to self-determination. But the proposal, unfortunately, is devoid of all strategic potential because it is disconnected from active support for 1-O. Thus, it fails to address the present crisis in the name of an uncertain proposal for the future while projecting an ambiguous and hesitant message at a critical moment, as if what happens today will have no repercussions for tomorrow.

The escalating repression has accentuated the connection between the Catalan independence process and the crisis of the Spanish regime. The democratic question, if the State continues in its authoritarian logic, may be the lever to transform Spanish public opinion. This would facilitate political solidarity with Catalonia by political and social forces across the Spanish state and pose the potential for a strategic understanding of Catalan events’ potential for provoking a constituent rupture(s) with the framework of 1978. But the democratic question, if it is to unfold in all its depth, implies that political and social forces in the Spanish state must correctly comprehend the Catalan national question.

8. The intensification of repressive measures and growing political tensions once again shows the weakness of the position adopted by Podemos and Catalunya en Comù with respect to O-1. They each support it as a legitimate mobilization but do not recognize it as a referendum because it lacks the necessary formal guarantees. Yet it makes no sense to embark on an a priori debate about whether O-1 lacks such guarantees or not. In fact, this will only be determined on October 1 when we see if the referendum is carried out, or if it is suppressed or withdrawn.

The decisive question is to understand, as unfortunately neither Podemos nor Catalonya en Comù do, the need to go all out to try. We must do so whether one believes it will be possible to hold the referendum against the will of the state, or if one believes that — under these conditions — all that is possible is a protest mobilization. The Catalan government and its political and social allies’ commitment to try to carry out O-1 is what is important, it is that commitment that has triggered the current political crisis. And it O-1 supporters’ determination which is intensifying it.

To declare in advance that the O-1 is a mere mobilization (as both Podemos and Catalunya en Comù have done), to refuse to go all-in, only deactivates the movement’s potential as a precipitating element in what might become a decisive political and institutional crisis. Such timidity with respect to O-1 not only exposes doubts about the independence project, but also a diminishing of Unidos Podemos and Catalunya en Comù’s profiles as constituent forces pushing for a rupture with the status quo. [4]

So we face decisive days ahead. These September days have shaken Catalan and Spanish society and will, no doubt, be followed by still more intense ones come October.

September 29, 2017

1. A Cuban dance.
2. This scene is available at YouTube.
3. For more on the arguments, see: Josep Maria Antentas, “Tribulaciones y atolladeros del proceso independentista,” Público, March 2, 2017.
4. For more on Catalunya en Comù, see: Josep Maria Antentas, “Los Comunes y sus dilemas,” September 11, 2017.

Further reading:

Aljazeera, “Catalonia independence referendum: All you need to know.

Dick Nichols, “Catalonia referendum: the insurrection against the Spanish state is reaching a decisive climax.

Dick Nichols, “Catalonia Referendum: Resisting the Spanish Government Siege.”

[1] They include, in addition to the workers’ commissions (CCOO) and the UGT, the Popular Unity Candidacy (the radical pro-independence party), Òmnium cultural, the Catalan National Assembly (ANC), the Catalan Association of Public Universities (ACUP), the National Council of Youth of Catalonia, the Confederation Neighborhood Associations of Catalonia (CONFAVC), the Federation of Assemblies of Fathers and Mothers of Catalonia (FAPAC), and the Union of Sports Federations, among others.