The people of Catalonia are caught up in a macabre game of bluff and who-blinks-first.
The democratic way out is for the people of Catalonia to be able to vote in a fair referendum on independence. Previous polls have indicated no majority for secession, and many on the left in Catalonia (for good reasons, we think) oppose creating a new border; but if there is now a majority for separation, then Madrid, and the EU, should respect it.
Over a hundred years ago, in a classic statement of Marxist and democratic ideas on disputes between nations, Lenin described the procedures in the secession of Norway from Swedish rule — a referendum in Norway which the Swedish government respected — as a model.
More to the point for us, he cited as a model the attitude of the Swedish workers — understanding that Norwegian workers might or might not back secession, but insisting that the Swedish government respect the Norwegians’ choice. That was and still is a model for preserving and developing working-class solidarity and unity across national divides.
The Catalan government declared independence to call Madrid’s bluff. Madrid responded by imposing direct rule.
It has jailed eight members of the Catalan government, to face charges including rebellion and sedition, and issued an arrest warrant for Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, who has fled to Belgium.
Puigdemont and four Catalan ministers are due to appear in a Brussels court on 17 November to oppose extradition. Around 200 separatist mayors from Catalonia are arriving in Brussels on 7 November to lobby in favour of Puigdemont.
The Catalan government hopes that Madrid’s repression will turn people against Spain, and rally a majority for a pro-independence coalition in elections to be held in Catalonia, by Madrid’s decision, on 21 December.
Madrid’s conservative government hopes, on the contrary, that its heavy hand will scare off tepidly pro-independence people, and create an anti-independence majority in those elections. It’s impossible to say, at least from this distance, which way it will go.
So far Madrid has gained some points. Catalonia’s police chief, put on charges by Madrid after the 1 October referendum, has advised his ranks to obey Madrid’s orders.
The Catalan government has made no attempt to continue exercising authority and defying direct rule.
Tuesday 7 November, the day we go to press, is the deadline for the registration of coalitions for the 21 December poll, and it looks unlikely that the pro-secession parties can get the broad alliance they want.
Catalunya en Comú, the leftish party of Barcelona mayor Ada Colau, is standing against the push for independence and the imposition of direct rule and the jailings, as well as against welfare cuts by Puigdemont’s government. Its coalition in Barcelona city council with the PSC (Catalan branch of the social-democratic PSOE, which has supported direct rule) may break up.
Podemos, Spain’s big left-wing party, with roots in the Indignados anti-austerity movement of 2011, is divided. Some of its Catalan MPs backed the declaration of independence, and so does the Anticapitalistas faction within Podemos, which includes supporters of the “Mandelite” Fourth International. But the main Podemos leaders do not.
The leader of Podemos in Catalonia, Albano Dante Fachin, resigned on 6 November, and Podemos members in Catalonia voted 72%-28% to participate on 21 December in coalition with Catalunya en Comu and “sister political forces.”
“These forces back neither the declaration of independence nor the application of article 155 [direct rule]”.
Across Spain, an opinion poll taken on 2-11 October and published 7 November shows continuing losses for the ruling PP and for the PSOE and Podemos, and gains for the less-conservative neoliberal Spanish unionists of Ciudadanos.
Spanish unions call for dialogue over Catalonia
Joint statement of the CCOO and the UGT [the General Union of Workers and Workers’ Commissions, the third and first largest unions in Spain] (26.10.17).
The CCOO and the UGT reject the unilateral declaration of [Catalonian] independence and reaffirm that the solution lies in new elections.
The UGT and the CCOO have reiterated calls for dialogue in response to the situation in Catalonia. We maintain that this is a political problem that can only be dealt with through political negotiation, rather than legal and police measures.
On that basis, we have been deeply critical of the position that the Spanish government has maintained thus far.
We have also criticised the confrontational strategy adopted by the parties representing the independence movement in Catalonia.
We think the best way out of the problem, allowing the establishment of a new framework more conducive to negotiation and agreement, would be for the Catalan President to call early elections and for the Spanish Government to suspend the application of Article 155 of the Constitution.
Our calls have been ignored by both sides and today we are facing the most undesirable and traumatic situation, bringing more risks for present and future coexistence between citizens.
Faced with this situation, which we can describe as a national emergency, CCOO and UGT want to express:
1. We reject the unilateral declaration of independence. The decision adopted by just over half of the Catalan Parliament to declare independence is clearly unconstitutional and outside of the parameters by which the European Union is governed.
This is a confrontational strategy, which the UGT and CCOO do not support, and which could have disastrous consequences for coexistence.
2. In the situation created by today’s decisions, the priority for the CCOO and UGT is to preserve coexistence and avoid social fracture. That is why we warn that we will not support any strategy, wherever it comes from, that in one way or another leads to confrontation.
3. The UGT and CCOO ask the government for moderation and caution when applying the measures adopted in the Council of Ministers in applying Article 155 of the Constitution, a situation that should never have been reached. That caution is essential to avoid social confrontation. Democratic and peaceful coexistence should be the ultimate goal that all political and social groups, first of all the Government, should pursue.
4. The CCOO and UGT continue to support bringing the situation back to a climate of normality and coexistence by holding elections to the Parliament. In that sense, the call for elections on 21 December is an essential step for Catalan citizens to express themselves democratically. That is why we reaffirm that the solution lies in holding democratic elections.
But the elections and the period leading up to them cannot become a space of social confrontation. All the political and social forces must do everything possible to make this a period of dialogue allowing the conflict to be channeled towards a real solution that puts the interests of citizens as the main focus.
In the medium term we believe that the dysfunctions we have seen in the current State of Autonomous Communities [the constitutional arrangement of autonomous regions making up Spain] could be overcome through constitutional reform that, among other social and democratising measures, creates a Federal State.
Constitutional reform that must be submitted to a referendum.