the Right to Self-Determination and Independence!
Mobilize Labor’s Power Against Spanish Police/Military
Mass Resistance to Police Repression in Catalonia
Police charge voters outside IES Ramon Llull secondary school. Barcelona, 1 October 2017.
OCTOBER 4 – Sunday was “D Day” in Catalonia. For the last three weeks, the population of the northeastern region of Spain was preparing for a “self-determination referendum” on October 1, called by the Catalan regional government, the Generalitat, to vote on the question of independence from the Spanish state. And for the last three weeks the Spanish government in Madrid was daily escalating threats and repression, declaring the referendum illegal and vowing to do “whatever is necessary” to prevent people from voting. On the night before the vote, tens of thousands of people in Barcelona and around Catalonia occupied more than 1,100 schools designated as polling places, many in sleeping bags outside the gates in the rain, in order to block the thousands of Guardia Civil and National Police from sealing them off to stop the vote.
The showdown began at daybreak. Occupiers had been ordered to vacate the premises by 6 a.m. Nobody left. Ballot boxes started arriving from where they had been hidden in closets and storage rooms, basements and attics, to prevent the police from seizing them. Ballots had been printed again after the Guardia Civil seized more than 3.5 million in raids on printing plants. By 7 a.m., the police of the autonomous regional government, the Mossos d’Esquadra, began showing up, but after noting the size of the crowds, they left. Soon, however, the more than 10,000 paramilitary police that had been brought in from elsewhere in Spain began barging into schools and seizing ballot boxes. But that was not enough for the cops. They were out to terrorize and humiliate the populace that was defying the orders of the Madrid government, courts, police and army by the simple act of voting.
Police (left) lunge to seize ballot boxes from voters inside IES Ramon Llull school. Barcelona, 1 October 2017.
Earlier, after some 40,000 people in Barcelona surrounded offices of the Generalitat, trapping the notorious Guardia Civil inside as it was carrying out a raid on September 20, Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy declared in truly Orwellian fashion that “disobedience is a totalitarian act.” It was in character: Rajoy’s party, the Partido Popular (PP), is the political heir of the decades-long dictatorship of Francisco Franco. So on October 1, his cops were going to root out disobedience. Police in riot gear stormed the schools. Millions around the world watched videos showing black-clad, masked police brutally yanking elderly retirees out of lines where they were waiting to vote. They would snatch someone at random from the crowds of hundreds and beat them bloody. The Generalitat reported 893 people injured by the police on Sunday.
As the day ended, the Spanish prime minister went on TV to make an “institutional declaration” proclaiming victory. A Pyrrhic victory,1 perhaps, with heavy consequences for the future. “Today there was no referendum on self-determination in Catalonia,” declared Rajoy in his Franco-style pronunciamiento. As for the images of club-wielding police beating elderly women in the head, Rajoy said: “We did what we had to do” against the “perpetrators” whose peaceful defiance amounted to a “coup against the law-based State.” The orgy of violence against defenseless voters unleashed by the authoritarian Spanish regime made a genuine referendum on independence impossible. But they did not stop people from voting. Late on Sunday, the Generalitat announced that more than 2.2 million people had cast ballots, 42% of the electorate, and 90% voted for independence.
Woman beaten in police charge outside Infant Jesus school in Barcelona, 1 October 2017.
“Fracture Consummated” headlined La Vanguardia (2 October), the leading daily paper in Barcelona which speaks for the “mainstream” Catalan bourgeoisie. The “unbreakable unity of Spain” had effectively been fractured, but Catalonia itself is deeply divided. Some 40% of registered voters had cast ballots for independence, which corresponds to figures that serious opinion polls have repeatedly shown. Those opposed to independence overwhelmingly did not vote. We have explained that opposition to separation from Spain is strongest in the (largely Spanish-speaking) working-class areas of Catalonia (see our article, “Defend the Right to Self-Determination and Independence for Catalonia,” The Internationalist, September 2017). At the same time, more than 2 million people braved violence by the Spanish state in order to vote on independence, and tens of thousands, many of them young people, actively participated in defending the polling places, an experience they will never forget.
Rajoy’s brutal onslaught has stoked fear. “Moderate” independence supporters are calling on the Generalitat to step back from the brink and call new elections to prove its “legitimacy.” For militants, defiant opposition to the brutal crackdown by the authoritarian Madrid government doesn’t necessarily equal support for independence under the bourgeois Catalan nationalist movement and its right-wing, anti-working-class leadership. It could also fuel revolutionary struggle against capitalism, the fundamental source of the suffering of working people, immigrants and youth in Catalonia and all of Spain. But that requires building an internationalist leadership of the working class to wage a class-struggle battle first and foremost against the neo-Francoist Rajoy regime and its henchmen – in particular the despicable leadership of the Socialist Party (PSOE), enforcers of capitalist austerity and repression – but also against the capitalist would-be masters of an independent Catalonia. That is the task of the hour.
The League for the Fourth International has upheld the right to self-determination (i.e., the right to independence) for Catalonia while not advocating separation from Spain, which could seriously undercut the potential for united struggle of the working class throughout the peninsula. We defended the holding of the October 1 referendum against the Spanish government’s attempt to suppress it, while saying we would cast a blank ballot. But, as we noted, in the face of massive repression unleashed by Rajoy, the place of revolutionary Marxists, those who stand on the Bolshevik program of V.I. Lenin and Leon Trotsky, is in the streets defending the right to self-determination and opposing police repression alongside those calling for Catalan independence, even as we fight for workers revolution. And we underline that to actually defeat the bloodthirsty latter-day Francoists and their military-police apparatus requires mobilizing the social and economic power of the working class throughout Spain.
What Next for Catalonia – And for Spain?
Hundreds of thousands marched in Barcelona during October 3 work stoppage throughout Catalonia to protest vicious políce attacks against voters in October 1 independence referendum.
The outcome of October 1 poses a difficult situation for the Catalan independentistas: they do not have the military force to stand up to the Spanish state – unlike the Iraqi Kurdish leaders with their peshmerga army funded, trained, armed and advised by the imperialists, who held their independence referendum a week earlier. Carles Puigdemont, the president of the Catalan Generalitat, and his predecessor Artur Mas, together with the rest of the bourgeois Junts pel Sí (JxSí, Together for Yes) coalition have looked to the European Union (EU) for support. Having won the “war of images” with scenes of bloody cop attacks in Barcelona all over TV and social media, Puigdemont appealed to EU leaders for support in mediating. But although it made a routine condemnation of “violence” and a lukewarm appeal for “dialogue,” the EU backed the Spanish government and unequivocally stated (again) that an independent Catalonia would be “outside” the European Union, which could cripple it economically.
The population, meanwhile, continues to be mobilized. In two towns north of Barcelona, popular opposition led to the Guardia Civil being run out of local hotels. Yesterday (October 3), a civic “aturada de país” (countrywide work stoppage) to protest the police rampage was called by a popular front, the Taula per la Democracia (Platform for Democracy), including the three main labor federations (CC.OO., UGT and USOC) and a number of independent unions along with employers associations, NGOs (“non-governmental organizations”) and the Catalan National Assembly and Òmnium Cultural, extraparliamentary support groups of the capitalist JxSí government. Government offices were closed (by the Catalan government), downtown Barcelona was jammed and huge marches were estimated at 300,000 people at noon and 700,000 in the evening. The world-famous Barcelona Football Club (Barça) shut down in solidarity. At the same time a “general strike” called by several smaller labor federations stopped public transportation for most of the day, while dock workers shut down the port.
Thousands of angry protesters besiege National Police headquarters (left) in downtown Barcelona on October 3. Catalan autonomous police (in red berets) with line of vehicles keep crowd away. National police eventually fled.
As the marches dispersed, thousands of the more leftist sectors headed to the downtown National Police HQ, laying siege to the barracks for hours. Finally, around 9:30 p.m., the cops piled into their vans and took off to avoid being trapped all night. As this was happening, King Felipe VI went on TV with an unprecedented speech backing the Rajoy government to the hilt, declaring that the Catalan authorities have been “breaching the constitution and the autonomy statute” by “illegally” seeking independence, that the crown was committed to the “unity” of Spain, including Catalonia, and calling on the “legitimate powers of the State to ensure order.” This bloodcurdling speech underlines the need for workers revolution to sweep away the monarchy. Instead, Puigdemont again appealed for European mediation, while repeating that the Generalitat would proceed with a unilateral declaration of independence (UDI) “in a matter of days.” This afternoon, the petty-bourgeois leftist Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP), without whose votes in the Catalan parlament the right-wing capitalist JxSí government would fall, demanded a plenary session on Monday, October 9, to hear the results of the vote and immediately proceed to a UDI.
Rogues gallery of enemies of democratic rights: (Left) U.S. president Donald Trump met with Spanish prime minister Mariano Roy to declare his support to Spain, one and indivisible, on September 26. Right: King Felipe VI denounced Catalan government on national TV October 3, setting stage for removing regional autonomy.
The stage is set for a showdown, in which the first act may be implementing Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution, suspending the Catalan statute of autonomy. Court cases are also being prepared against Puigdemont and the entire Catalan government for “disobedience” and against the Catalan police chief for “sedition,” which could lead to their arrest. This afternoon it was announced that the Madrid government’s contract for the cruise ships housing Civil Guards and National Police in the harbor has been extended, that two Navy frigates will arrive in the Catalan capital on October 10, and that several convoys of army logistical units have been deployed to a base next to Barcelona, “in case, when the moment arrives, the Armed Forces and Security Corps of the State need to use the military facility” (El Confidencial, 4 October). A military occupation of the region may be in the offing. Maintaining it over a lengthy period, seeking to discipline a restive population with sheer terror, is another matter. Heavy-handed repression backfired and didn’t stop the voting on October 1.
The focus will then be on the working class, for what counts is not images but raw power – and the key is leadership. The PSOE has played a despicable role throughout, defending the neo-Francoist PP government’s ban on the self-determination referendum, praising the Guardia Civil and National Police and denouncing those who oppose these uniformed terrorists. Without the support of these vile social democrats, Rajoy’s minority government would fall. In Catalonia, the CC.OO. and UGT unions joined the call for a popular-front “civic work stoppage” but opposed the call for a general strike. The union bureaucrats made sure that key factories did not walk out, notably the SEAT auto plants, where there was only a 5-minute stoppage at noon. If the brutal police assault on the population leads to a growth of support for the Catalan nationalists – whose capitalist program offers only the dead end of passive resistance – rather than mobilizing workers’ power to drive out the occupation forces, it will centrally be because of the betrayal by the pro-capitalist labor fakers.
In Catalonia and Spain today – as in struggles around the globe in recent years, from Greece to Mexico, from South Africa to South America, in Ukraine and the Middle East and even in the imperialist colossus of the United States – the excruciating need is to forge a revolutionary leadership, a workers party built on the internationalist program of Lenin and Trotsky. Much of the left in Catalonia has tailed after the bourgeois nationalist independence movement, just as they habitually chase every new “movement” with little regard to its actual politics. The opportunists hope to gain popularity, but with such a tailist policy they can never lead a real class struggle, much less a revolution. The Fourth International was formed in 1938 in the shadow of huge defeats and in the midst of the Spanish Civil War. It sought with its tiny forces and powerful program to resolve the crisis of revolutionary leadership. That is the task facing the League for the Fourth International today, when Catalonia is, as it was eight decades ago, a key battlefield. ■
- 1. After “winning” his battle against the Roman Army in 280 BC while suffering heavy casualties, King Pyrrhus of the Greek state of Epirus reportedly said, “One more victory like that and I’ll come back to Epirus alone.”