We are posting two items on the situation in Catalunya. The first is from Eric Chester who recently visited Barcelona. The second is the motion put forward to the SSP’s National Council in May by the Dundee branch.
1. REPORT FROM BARCELONA
Barcelona has once again become a center of radical politics. After decades of brutal repression under Franco, the Left has returned and the city is alive with political activity. Of course, the Left of 2018 is not the same Left that controlled Barcelona during the first months of the Spanish Civil War.
The Struggle for Independence
Media coverage of the situation in Catalonia has focused on the struggle for independence. There is no doubt that this has become a bitter confrontation. Those who support independence point out that there had been an agreement under which Catalonia was granted considerable autonomy. Yet when the Catalonian parliament approved progressive legislation, such as a ban on fracking and an end to bull fighting, as well as the levying of taxes targeting the affluent, the Spanish Constitutional Court stepped in to nullify the legislation. It was this decision that fuelled the upsurge in support for independence.
Nevertheless, popular opinion remains split on the issue, with a substantial segment of the populace continuing to hold the belief that Catalonia should remain a region within Spain. In this context, the push for independence has reached a stalemate, as Spanish courts continue to arrest and detain independence leaders on the charge of sedition. The lack of unity in popular opinion has prevented the supporters of independence from organizing the mass protests, occupations and general strikes that would be required to force the Spanish government to accept a binding referendum.
For now, the broad coalition supporting independence has shifted the focus of its efforts to a defense of democratic rights. Signs calling for the freeing of political prisoners can be seen everywhere in Barcelona. A cluster of tents in the main square has been erected as a symbolic occupation in support of those being held in jail. Whatever one’s position on Catalonian independence, there can be no justification for the dictatorial acts of the Spanish government. Furthermore, the people of Catalonia have the right to determine for themselves whether they should remain a part of Spain or form an independent state.
International Women’s Day
Yet the struggle for independence is only one of several movements that are able to mobilize huge numbers of protestors. These demonstrations are able to bridge the divide arising for the call for independence. We arrived in Barcelona a few days after International Women’s Day, March 8. On that day, a rally brought 500,000 people on to the streets of Barcelona. Men were encouraged to bring their children, thus assuming parental responsibility. Throughout Catalonia, even in small towns, there were similar rallies on March 8. Indeed, International Women’s Day was celebrated by mass rallies in much of Spain.
The protests in Barcelona were coordinated by a network of grass-roots community based feminist organizations. While organizing the march and rally, feminist organizations began calling for a one day general strike. Both of the anarchist unions, the CGT and the CNT, were supportive, but the two largest unions, the UGT and the CCOO, were uncooperative. Finally, under pressure from their women members, both of the mainstream unions agreed to support a two-hour general strike on March 8, a considerable victory for grass-roots activists.
The Broader Movement
Political activity takes many forms in Barcelona. During our time there, tens of thousands demonstrated in opposition to a cost of living increase for pensioners that fell far short of the rate of inflation. These protests reflected the enormous popular discontent with the drastic austerity measures imposed by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund in the wake of the global collapse of a decade ago.
While the economy sputters, housing prices in Barcelona continue to soar. In part, this has resulted from the many tourists flocking to the city. In addition, neighborhoods in the city center have been gentrified as the very wealthy opt to own an apartment in this ancient and beautiful metropolis. Most of these flats remain unoccupied for much of the year as working people find themselves crammed into less and less space. Community organizations have mobilized to oppose gentrification and anarchist groups have been active in blocking evictions. Signs declaring that Barcelona can not be bought are highly visible in the contested neighborhoods.
A Radical Party Arises
Barcelona is a city with a revolutionary past and a radical present. It is a place of ferment where new ideas are welcomed and conservative traditions no longer hold sway. From this mix of social movements, a new political party has emerged, the Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP), bringing together activists from a range of political backgrounds, both socialist and anarchist.
CUP developed out of grass-roots community organizations that first presented candidates at a municipal level. Since 2012, it has fielded candidates for the Catalonian legislature. At the last election in 2017, the party received 4.5% of the total vote and elected four of its members to the Catalonian parliament. Still, the CUP continues to uphold one of its core values by functioning as a decentralized organization in which a great deal of power remains at the local level. Electoral politics remains a secondary concern to movement building in communities and at the workplace.
General policy guidelines for the CUP for Catalonia are set every six months at an assembly in which every active member can vote. Currently, there are two thousand members who are active at the local level, most of whom participate at the assembly level.
The CUP is committed to a socialist feminist perspective and it works hard to ensure that women fully participate in the party. As a result, the percentage of women in the party has doubled, increasing from about twenty percent of the total membership to nearly forty percent. Of course, CUP women were active in organizing the International Women’s Day demonstration and pushing for a general strike that day, but the commitment to feminism goes beyond this. There are strict term limits on those holding office and the party makes sure women are fully represented among those authorized to speak to the media. Furthermore, CUP members in the Catalonian parliament are held strictly accountable to the party’s guidelines as determined by a democratic process.
CUP views itself as a party committed to a set of principles grounded in the need for a revolutionary transformation of society. For this to be more than rhetoric, the organization needs to formulate a program that pushes the limits of the possible within a global capitalist system. CUP calls for an independent Catalonia that will be independent of the European Union and NATO. It also stands for the repudiation of enormous government debt incurred during the economic collapse of the last decade. CUP would also bring the banks into the public sector without any compensation, pointing to the vast subsidies given the financial sector during the crash. These demands are the start of a transitional program, although one that needs further development before it can provide the basis for a socialist transformation of society.
During the last year, the CUP has worked within a parliamentary coalition with the two larger, mainstream pro-independence parties. At the same time, the CUP sought to pursue its own socialist agenda. Obviously there is a tension between these two strategies. Recently the party has openly broken with the independence bloc by refusing to support a joint candidate for president of Catalonia. In doing so, the CUP stated clearly that it would focus its energies on building grass-roots movements for fundamental change and would not limit its efforts to support for a broad coalition demanding the restoration of basic civil liberties.
The CUP has its problems but nevertheless it provides an interesting model for anti-authoritarian leftists in the more economically developed countries. It proves that a viable organization of radicals can be built in a post-industrial society. While linking itself to the past, especially the inspiring examples of worker self-management created during the Spanish Civil War, the CUP understands that it needs to take into account the distinctive consciousness of the current period.
Socialism can not be built in one country, but rather it requires a revolutionary movement that crosses national boundaries. The CUP needs to strengthen its ties to groups with a similar perspective in Europe and throughout the world. Perhaps this time the radical Left can build an international that is not dominated by one organization, but instead acts as a true federation of organizations committed to a common goal, the revolutionary transformation of capitalist society.
Eric Chester, 24.5.18
2. DUNDEE SSP MOTION ON CATALONIA TO THE MAY NATIONAL COUNCIL
This National Council welcomes the involvement of SSP members in a wide range of actions anddiscussions focussed on the political situation in Catalonia, including the participation of SSP members in a delegation to Catalonia in October 2017; the consistent reports published in the Scottish Socialist Voice by Dick Nichols, the Barcelona-based European correspondent for Green Left Weekly and Links journal;
- the visible SSP presence and speakers at solidarity rallies in cities across Scotland;
- and a number of successful SSP public meetings on the subject, including the well-attended fringe meeting at the SNP conference in Glasgow.
Furthermore, this National Council considers:
i) That the crisis in Catalonia merits serious consideration by socialists internationally because of the critical questions it raises around the nature of sovereignty, nationalism, mass movements and power, many of which have particular significance in Scotland;
ii) That the demand for the Catalan Republic, supported by over two million Catalan people in the 2017 referendum, poses what is currently the most immediate threat to the Spanish political system established in 1978 during the ‘transition to democracy’ (the “1978 regime”);
iii) That the 1978 regime was built on an agreement between the major Spanish parties onimpunity for those responsible for the crimes of the Franco dictatorship, rejection of the right of nations to self-determination, and the restoration of the Spanish monarchy, and that, regardless of the conditions in which that agreement was struck, the bringing down of the 1978 regime is therefore a legitimate and progressive aspiration in modern-day Catalonia;
iv) That support for Catalan independence has grown in large part among working class and young Catalans because of their disillusionment with the ability of the Spanish state and the1978 regime to realise their aspiration for greater national and economic rights, both of which have been undermined by Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy in his opposition to the 2006 Statute of Autonomy and in his continued imposition of austerity across the Spanish state;
v) That the Catalan movement has been increasingly radicalised as a consequence of repression from the Spanish state, as seen in the massive mobilisation of working class Catalans in a general strike on 3 October 2017, described by Ignasi Bernat as “the first large-scale workers’ strike against state repression in Europe for over 40 years”, which introduced the working class as a political actor into the Catalan independence movement;
vi) That the events following the October 2017 referendum and general strike are distinguished by an increasing degree of conflict between the more radical left wing of the Catalan movement (concentrated in the grassroots) and its more moderate right wing (concentrated in leadership positions, represented by the likes of Catalan President Carles Puigdemont);
vii) That this conflict ultimately led to the Catalan government’s reluctant unilateral declaration of independence, demanded by the grassroots movement after Puigdemont was outmanoeuvred by the Spanish government, and the subsequent invocation of Article 155, which the timid Puigdemont government was not prepared to meaningfully resist;
viii) That this conflict represents not only a clash of ideas and opposing strategies, but is also a reflection of the class struggle within the Catalan independence movement, with the militant section of the movement reflecting the aspiration of working class Catalans to break decisively from the Spanish state and the moderate section of the movement reflecting the aspirations and economic interests of the Catalan middle-class and business owners;
ix) That only the use of mass demonstrations, strikes, direct action and open defiance of the Spanish Constitution, made possible by a high level of sustained organising at a local community level, has delivered significant advance for the Catalan movement, and the meaningful realisation of the Catalan Republic relies on the continued use of these tactics;
x) That the outcome of the current crisis is of great interest for the whole of the European left, in which the question of how to win, retain and effectively utilise political power in favour of the working class remains strongly contested and unanswered, particularly following the capitulation of the Greek government of Alexis Tsipras and his SYRIZA party;
xi) That the project of establishing the Catalan Republic on a progressive basis, breaking decisively from the 1978 regime and the politics of neoliberalism, has the potential to inspire and rally working class people in other countries around similar demands — not least in Scotland, where the independence movement has failed to make meaningful advance under the cautious and conservative leadership of Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP, whose position on EU membership has been partly discredited among their base of supporters following the European Commission’s acceptance of Spanish state repression;
xii) And that, while it is ultimately up to the people of Catalonia to determine their future, socialists internationally have a political and moral imperative to offer political and practical support to the Catalan pro-independence left in their pursuit of this immediate goal. This being the case, this National Council affirms:
1. That the SSP EC was right to extend support to the Catalan Defence Committee Scotland (CDCS), should encourage SSP members to get involved with its solidarity work, and should urge the CDCS to introduce a democratic, accountable and transparent national decision-making structure as soon as is practicably possible;
2. That the SSP should continue to develop and share publicly a socialist perspective on events in Catalonia, in particular aiming to distil the lessons that can be applied in Scotland from theexperience of pro-independence left activists in organisations like the CUP;
3. And that the SSP should aim to develop a positive and constructive relationship with Catalan pro-independence socialists and anti-capitalists, including by extending an invitation to a CUP representative to participate in the SSP’s 2018 conference.
This motion was passed.